I like original characters, I really do. However, I prefer to do the creating and crafting of them, rather than have them jump up, full grown and demanding. This is such a character. I was getting ready to sleep and just as I was about to doze off, there she was, requesting her own story. This follows my previous stories, Human Touch, Healing Touch, and Gentle Touch....

Touch of Humanity


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"What is it?"

"An animal. The kind we use for the elders, to preserve them."

She frowned and looked at the creature. "It looks like us."

"Yes, that is why we can use their organs, but it's not intelligent, it doesn't communicate, it's just an animal."

"Why is it here?"

"It's young and I thought that it might be interesting to raise one for your grandfather, since he doesn't need replacements, yet."

She smiled up at her father. "Can I play with it?"

Her father was nonplussed, but finally gave his permission.

She was terrified. First the red-and-silver monsters had shot at them and then captured her. She'd nearly screamed her lungs out as they carried her and the bits of her friends they wanted back with them to the silver craft. Then they put her in the silver tube and she went to sleep. When she woke up, she was far from home, with no memory of how she'd gotten there. She wrinkled her nose at the ugly shade of green her skin was, but at least she didn't look all that different from the man who herded her and half a dozen other children and young people down the street, if that was what this was. She looked up in confusion, blinking in shock as she realized that the reason it was so hot was that there were two suns in the sky....

The worst thing was that they never said a word, pushing them where they wanted them. The other children were as much in shock as she was, but unlike them, she chattered when she was nervous... incessantly. It had been her biggest fault in school and this was no different. Eventually, she was separated from the others and a man came. She was embarrassed when they looked at her after they took her clothes from her, but the man didn't seem to notice. They gave her a simple shift to wear and the man took her away.

She kept asking why they had killed her friends and why had they taken her, but the man never spoke a single word.

Meeting the other girl had been a pleasant surprise, but she was frustrated that no one would talk to her. They made her sleep on the floor, on a scrap of carpet in the corner of the girl's room. The food consisted of some weird paste, but wasn't too bad, it at least filled the emptiness in her stomach, if not her heart or mind. She settled into her new existence and talked to herself constantly, just to ease the silence of her new life.

One day, she was sitting on her scrap of rug and leaning against the wall. She hated the silence. They didn't even have a radio or television. She had her eyes closed and was singing a lullaby to herself, one that her mother had sung to her when she was smaller. She remembered her family as she sang and the tears flowed softly from her eyes, down her face, and dripped onto her shift.

The light touch on her cheek startled her out of her reverie and she jumped and opened her eyes to see the other girl looking at her oddly. She had begun to recognize a few of their expressions and knew the girl was curious about her tears. She rubbed them away. "I'm crying, okay? I miss my mom and dad and my brother." Her voice caught, "Why did they kill my friends? Did they get my brother, too? Why did they bring me here?" The other girl frowned and touched her fingers to her lips. "Can't you talk?" Suddenly, she thought she understood. "You can't hear, either, can you? I had a friend who was deaf. She learned to talk, but she sounded funny, but she was fun. My name is Leila, what's yours?" Her fingers slowly spelled out what she was saying and she saw the girl's confusion mount.

"Can't you use sign language? It's easy, I'll show you. She pointed to herself. "I'm Leila." She spelled out her name in sign, and then she pointed to her. "What's your name?"

The animal made a lot of noise, which her parents disapproved of, but she found fascinating. One day, she was going past her room and heard the animal making pleasant sounds and she stopped to listen and see. She'd never heard music, before, but found herself soothed by the sounds the beast made. It drew her closer and she finally sat beside the creature. Seeing it leaking, she reached out and touched the wetness. The animal jumped and its eyes flew open in fear. She watched it, curiously. When it pointed to itself and said something and then made strange movements of one hand, she was puzzled, and then she suddenly realized that it was trying to communicate!

"Lllleeeeeeeellllaaahhhh." She tried to mimic the sounds the animal made. Her efforts were met with a huge showing of teeth from the animal and for a moment she was afraid that it wanted to bite her, but then she realized it was a sign of pleasure from it.

"Right! Leila. What's your name?" At the puzzled look, she tried again, pointing to herself, she spoke and signed "Leila." Then she pointed to the other girl and spread her hands and shrugged.

The animal wanted to know her name! But they didn't make noises to communicate. Curious, wondering if the animal was perhaps intelligent enough to understand, she touched her forehead to the animal's and closed her eyes, saying her name.

Leila felt a soft breeze and imagined the sound of wind chimes. When she realized she was 'hearing' the other girl's thoughts, she gasped. "Oh!" and tried to 'think back' at the other girl, who pulled away, shaking her head in pain.

Her mind flooded with thoughts and images from the animal, it was more than she could bear and she pulled away, shaking and massaging her temples in pain. But she'd communicated with the creature! It was intelligent, it just didn't communicate the way they did! From then on, she'd worked harder than she ever had before, learning to communicate with the other girl.

"But your grandfather has need of new organs."

"Please, father, no. She's my friend!"

"It's an animal!"

"It can talk!"

Her father laughed. "You just think she does. It's just an animal."

"Please, father! Don't do this!"

He sighed in exasperation. "I should never have allowed you to make a pet of it." He scowled into the distance. "Oh, all right. You can keep it. I'll procure other organs for your grandfather."

"You can't keep me safe forever, you know."

"I can try."

Leila shook her head. "You know that you can't. I don't understand why your people kill my people for their organs. Or why they feel that we're just stupid animals, but we're not. We're people, too."


"You can't stop them. And you say you can't take me home. I don't want to be spare parts for you, I don't, but I don't see any other way out. It's not like I can run away or anything. This is a whole different world than the one I come from. Earth only has one sun, and you have two. I wish they'd killed me like they did my friends!" She ran from her friend, leaving her behind in the garden.

When she was captured, she was not returned to her owners, but harvested.

Her mistress never forgot her and never stopped grieving for her friend.

"We can't continue like this!"

"Why not?"

"They're intelligent beings, just like we are. They aren't animals. Animals don't use tools, they don't develop space travel or machines that can destroy you. They're people, too!"

"You're just hormonal...." He didn't have a chance to complete the thought as she surged to her feet, furious.

"And where am I to find a mate, tell me that? When was the last male born capable of fathering children? I'm one of six percent of the female population of the world that's fertile, and there is less than one percent of the male population, and all those males are my father's age!"

"Calm down. There are a few boys who look promising."

"Boys. They're children and years away from knowing if they'll be fertile or not. By the time they're old enough, most of the fertile females won't be, any more! If these others are enough like us that we can use their organs, then perhaps they're enough like us to interbreed."

There was a sudden stillness within the quiet, as though everyone had inhaled at once. Finally, "That's madness."

"Why? Or do you expect me to mate with my own father?"

"Certainly not!"

She leaned across the table, "Then with whom? You?"

The male squirmed beneath her glare and refused to meet her gaze or answer her.

"Right, then. I say we try and negotiate with them."

"Do you really believe they'd do that? After all this time?"

"If we don't, within another twenty years, it won't matter, as we won't have enough left to go there and bring back their organs. How long has it been since your warriors have successfully returned with fresh organs for you?"

No one had an answer for her. She had only recently reached maturity, and unlike most females, was not only fertile, but adamant about her ideas. Unfortunately, she had a very valid point.

"How do you propose we go about negotiating? We can't communicate with them."

"I can."

There was a great deal of amusement at her claim. "You? You expect us to allow a fertile female to try and communicate with them?"

She looked up at them from beneath lowered brows. "Yes." Her green-gold eyes dared them to tell her no. She met each member's eyes directly and they all looked away. That was always the way when the unfertile were challenged by the fertile.

"Intruder Alert. Bearing 546 blue, speed, SOL .8." At the pronouncement, Moonbase personnel scrambled for their interceptors while those on earth focused their attention on the incoming ufoe and prepared to defend their world from the latest incursion in the longest-running secret war in the history of the Earth.

"UFO has stopped," SID pronounced. "Distance, twenty-five thousand miles."

"That's out of interceptor range."

"UFO is approaching, bearing 546 Blue, speed, mach one." It continued to approach until it was just outside of interceptor range and there it stopped, and hovered, and waited.

For a week it simply sat there, just out of reach, during which time no other ufoes approached or even appeared.

"It's just sitting there, waiting."

"For what? Have the interceptors scrambled on it?"

"It's out of range. We sent the interceptors out a couple of times to take pot-shots at them, but they didn't even move and it would take a miracle to hit them."

Alec sighed heavily. "Maybe they're waiting for an invitation to come visit," he grumbled.

Straker looked at him in surprise. "Why not? Ford, see if you can get a radio response from them."

"Yes, sir. What frequencies do you want me to try?"

"Any and all of them, except for the terrestrial broadcast frequencies."

"Yes, sir."

In the past five years, Keith had been reassigned as the day-shift supervisor. He was aging well, but then he insisted that his family kept him young. His marriage seven years earlier had been one of the best things to ever happen to him. Now that his youngest child was in pre-school, having the evenings and nights off was a real boon. And with his wife and he working the same shift, there was a lot more family time. Best of all, his stepdaughter was about to finish college and with any luck, would be recruited into SHADO. And his adopted son, Tom, orphaned by an accident after observing a ufoe attack, was in college, as well, and had shown an aptitude that had already garnered him recruitment. He liked his life, loved his family and enjoyed his job, although he'd often wish that their war would end within his lifetime.

He worked the communications station, repeating his question again and again. "What do you want from us?" and then pausing to wait for an answer. Straker wandered around Control, feeling this was a waste of time, but better than nothing. Alec simply stood stoically behind Ford, listening.

"I want to talk to you, please."

The response froze everyone in place.

"What?" Ford asked incredulously, glancing back at the equally flabbergasted Alec.

"I want to talk to you, please. You understand?"

Straker, as shocked as everyone else but not showing it, leaned over Keith's shoulder and listened, narrow-eyed with doubt. "Tell them to wait for our interceptors to escort them to the atmosphere, and have Skys one and four escort them to...." He paused, debating where to bring them in. "Greenland. It's close enough and remote enough at the same time. I want them under the gun every step of the way."

"Come within range of our interceptors and they will escort you to the atmosphere."

"Range? I don't understand. We will come to your moon? And I will be left there. Okay?"

"Keep them under the gun until he gets out."

They all waited tensely until the ufoe landed and a single red-suited figure exited. Then the craft lifted off and returned to it's hovering position out of range. Their own silver-suited people swarmed out of the hatches and surrounded the alien, escorting it into the dome.

To their surprise, the suit wasn't filled with liquid, and the alien didn't seem to recognize the hostility of its hosts.

Gay Ellis looked the alien over, scowling. "Well, you're here. Now what?"

"Are you the one...." She closed her eyes, searching for the word, "In charge?"

"I command Moonbase, yes.



The alien cocked its head, frowning. "I want to stop fighting?"


"Stop fighting?"

"Gay? The commander's online and asking questions."

"Right." She glared at the alien. "You, stay here." Turning to the still armed escort, she snarled, "Watch him. He makes a move, shoot him." The alien watched uncertainly as the woman stalked out of the room. The alien looked around the room. It was Spartan, but seemed comfortable. It waited quietly, curious about the humans. From the weapons trained on her, she knew they feared her, but she was unarmed; making the first move towards possible peace between their races. They looked so much like her own kind, except that they communicated verbally and visually, rather than mind-to-mind, like her own people. That her people had equated verbal communication with lack of intelligence! When the purple-haired woman returned, scowling, she tried to follow what was said, but they spoke too fast, and used too many words she didn't understand. She realized that she shouldn't have been surprised. Leila had, after all, been a child. She felt a thread of fear as she realized that she might not have enough words to make them understand. However, none of her feelings showed as she remembered how Leila had told her that her kind didn't show things like humans did. She remembered how Leila's face showed her feelings and she smiled.

Gay didn't know if that was a smile or a threat. No matter. She had her orders and fortunately, their shuttle had planned to return to earth today, so there would be no added cost. She escorted the alien to the ship and told those rotating back to earth to keep a very close watch on their guest. Then she gratefully returned to her duties, informing the commander that their 'guest' was on its way.

The humans stared at her. She smiled, but it didn't seem to help. She pointed to herself, "Wind chimes."

"What kind of name is that?"

She turned to the young female who'd responded. She didn't understand tone of voice, only words, so she didn't know what the woman meant. "It is as close as your language comes to my name."

"How'd you learn to speak English?"

Her smile turned sad, although she didn't know it. "I had a friend, once. Leila. She taught me to speak your language." She cocked her head at the other woman. "She couldn't learn to speak to my people, though. Perhaps if she could have, we could have been friends, instead of fighting for so long."

"Well, you started it!" She turned to the man who spoke so angrily.

"I'm hardly old enough to have been involved when it started, but if you mean my people, then yes, I suppose we did." She gazed calmly at the man and wondered how many of these people were fertile? What percentage? Five percent? Twenty-five percent? "Do you have children?"


"Do you have children?"

"No. None of us are married. Not yet, anyway."

She frowned, puzzled. "Not yet?" Her expression cleared, "Oh, you are not old enough to know, yet?"

The woman who had first spoken to her laughed. "No, we can all have children, but have chosen not to, just yet." She looked at her companions and they were all smiling. "The right partner just hasn't come along."

She froze for a moment. They made it sound as though they were all fertile, but chose to not have children. Was that possible?

"That's right, your kind are mostly sterile, aren't they?"

"Sterile?" It was a word she didn't know.

"Can't have children."

"Yes." Her head rose with pride. "I am able."

"Is that why you've come? To find a mate?" The man laughed nastily. "Can't imagine any of our girls being interested in you, green-skin."

"I do not understand."

"Alien scum, what's taken you so long to decide to talk to us?"

She didn't know the words, but realized that they were angry with her. "Until I was old enough and found fertile, I had no say in the councils."

"What?" A different woman asked, leaning forward. "How old are you?"

She cocked her head. Leila had often asked that question, as well. "Our time is not measured as yours is, I don't think. I'm just out of childhood? Leila was older than I was, but I think our 'years' are longer than yours." She shook her head. "I don't know."

"You look like a teen-ager. And you can breathe our air. Others of your kind age horribly when they're in our atmosphere, I've heard."

"Your air is different from ours. You have more of one element than we do, and it does not work well for us. I am young among my kind, though, so I can learn to adapt."

"You can adapt to our atmosphere?"


"Why do you come to kill us?"

She quietly looked at the humans, debating. "I am not sure I know that. I have asked it, myself. I know only that it has been going on for far longer than I have been living. Back to my father's father's father's father's time and before."

"That's more than a hundred years."

"Easily. Depending on their actual longevity, it could be well over a thousand years, for that matter."

They all looked at one another, then at the alien. "Lucky for you, the commander wants to meet with you, or we'd have fried your ass."

"Fried my ass?"

"Killed you. Blasted you out of existence."

"Oh." She thought about it and nodded. "In your place, I would do the same thing, I think."

"Why now?"

She looked up without raising her head and her strange, green-gold eyes reflected the light oddly. "Because Leila taught me your language. My father did not believe I could communicate with her, he believed that she was only an animal." She smiled, having learned to show her amusement in the human way. "Now, I'm mature enough to speak in the councils and be heard. My father is angry."


"Because I am fertile."


"Only six girls in one hundred are fertile."

"Six percent? Good heavens. Our infertility rate is less than that!"

Her breath caught. So high? Her eyes widened as she looked at them all. They were all fertile? Every one of them? From the expressions on their faces, she realized it was true...and that the boys were as fertile as the girls. What fools the elders were! She closed her eyes to meditate and try to think up some way to bring peace to their people and survival for hers.

"She? The alien is female?"

"Yes, dear. Lovely young woman, I must admit. If she were human, I'd guess her to be twelve to fourteen, but I rather suspect they're much more slow-developing than we are."


She looked meaningfully at her husband. "She had a 'pet' human. A young woman named Leila. That's how she learned to speak English."

"Leila?" Alec turned to stare at the alien lying quietly in the quarantine room. "Leila Carlin?"

"I think so."

"Get a picture, Alec."

"On it." Freeman shook his head as he accessed the med-unit's computer and brought up a picture of Leila Carlin. He printed it out and handed it to Dr. Straker, who looked at it, sadly. "She was so young."

"Yes. Sixteen, I believe, when they took her." Ed sighed, shaking his head. "I'll let you show it to her."

"Yes, Commander." Louise smiled at him and winked, taking the sting out of her calling him 'commander' instead of one of her usual endearments. With a nod of encouragement from Alec Freeman, she reentered the quarantine room.

"Is this Leila?" She held the photo out to the alien, who looked at it and nodded, her face drawing down into a frown.

"My father brought her home, intending to keep her until his father needed organs, but I discovered she could talk, and we became friends."

"What happened to her?"

The alien looked into her eyes and replied. "We argued and she ran. I did not run after her and she was taken." She looked away, towards the two men watching and listening from the other side of the unbreakable glass barrier. "I have been sorry for that ever since. She might still be alive if I hadn't become angry and let her run off."

Louise turned to look at her husband and Alec, her expression asking 'what now?' Alec was looking sadly at the alien, but her husband was looking annoyed. She wasn't surprised when he entered the room, Alec on his heels.

"So why are you here?"

She looked up at him. He looked strong and healthy, but aging. She tilted her head at him. "Are you fertile?"

That took him aback. "Not that it's any of your business, but yes."

She looked at Louise. "Do you have many children?"

Louise was shaken and her memory flashed back fourteen years. "My child was murdered when your people came and killed my husband. They probably planned to take me, as well, but must have realized that I was pregnant and they left me to die. I lost my child and my ability to ever have another." She leaned towards the horrified alien. "Your people stole that from me," she hissed in sudden fury.


She turned to glare at her husband but was met with his bland calmness and she took a deep, shuddering breath and stepped back from the alien. She turned away, grateful when Ed caught her and gave her a gentle hug. She gathered her emotions and regained control as he held her, then she nodded. "Sorry."

"Understandable, my love." He turned to look at the alien. "Our war with your people has cost all of us. I lost my first wife and son because of it; Louise lost her husband, unborn child and the ability to have children because of it. Your friend, Leila, was the younger sister of one of our people. The first one of your kind we ever found carried her heart in his chest." His expression showed his bitterness. "All of us have given up a normal life, with families, children, rest, and peace to fight off your incessant incursions. I've been dealing with this for more than half of my life. I was assigned to General Henderson in 1969, that was thirty-four years ago, at the beginning of our organized defense of our world from your incursions. We've had our defense system up for almost twenty-three years, now. Why now? Why didn't you come before?"

She looked at him and realized he was considered old for his kind. She looked at the larger man against the wall, who was leaning quietly, watching, and realized he was older yet. She turned her eyes back to the silver-haired man. "Because no one believed I could talk to you. I was a child. Leila was given to me as a pet, but she taught me to speak your language. My people do not speak with words. It was very hard for me to learn. You have so many words, and Leila was not able to understand my speech, and when she tried to speak to me in our way, it hurt me." She looked at them in something akin to awe. "You feel so many things all at once, anger, fear, pain, love...so many emotions, so many thoughts at once." She shook her head. "You have no control, but you are so capable of multi-tasking? Is that the word? Doing many things at the same time?"

"Yes. That's the word."

She looked up at the large man against the wall, who had finally spoken. Her head tilted to the side. "You do not sound like them," she said softly, questioningly.

"No. Ed's an American, Louise is Canadian, and I'm Australian, originally. I understand from my wife, however, that I now sound just like the pommies."

"I do not understand?"

"We're from different regions of the planet, but we do all speak the same language."

"Ah. Everyone on my planet speaks the same language." She regarded them for a time. "My world is dying. Our people are no longer able to have children. Only six girls in a hundred are fertile, and there are no boys of my age who are. We are an old people, and dying." She shook her head. "Long ago, our parents found your world and discovered that your organs were viable in our bodies. We began to come here and take what we needed to survive. I do not know why it never occurred to anyone before to ask for your help, but then again, no one believed you able to communicate."

"How do you communicate?" Alec asked.

She looked up at him and gestured him to come closer. With a nervous glance at Ed and Louise, he did as she asked, crouching beside her as she sat up and reached for him. With one hand on his shoulder for balance, she touched her forehead to his, and spoke.

It was like a gentle breeze stirring distant wind chimes, soothing and restful. He responded automatically, unconsciously baring his thoughts and taking her on a quick flight of his memories with his wife. She gasped and pulled away from him, eyes open wide in shock.

His eyes opened and he found himself flat on his back on the floor, looking up at Ed's worried face. "Why am I on the floor?"

"I'm not sure, but you stay right there until Louise clears you."

Alec took a deep breath and shook his head. "I'm fine, honest." He sat up easily, and then frowned. "Narf a moe,"


Alec stretched widely and easily got to his feet. "When was the last time you saw me that limber, I ask you?"

"It's been a while. How do you feel?"

Alec grinned. "Like going flying." His smile faded when he looked at the ashen-faced alien woman. "What happened to her?"

"I think she absorbed your arthritis, Alec."


"How are you feeling?"

"Strange." She looked up at Alec and tilted her head. "You could speak to me."

"Telepathy," Ed whispered in awe. He looked at Alec, "You overwhelmed her with whatever memory you sent her."

"There was a soft, warm, breeze, with a sound of distant wind chimes, it made me think of a nice, summery day and going flying. Rachel and me, last month, when we went to Paris for that fly-in?"

Ed nodded. "I remember." He turned to his wife and the alien. "What did you see?"

"Up in the air, water below, clouds above, shaking from the engine, warm, pleasant." She looked at Alec, "I would like to experience that feeling."

"It's a very special one. The SPAD is a nice plane." Not to mention his and his wife's fondness for anything that raised them above the ground.

Ed looked askance at Alec, who shook his head minutely. He hadn't had 'that' particular memory. Ed grinned and patted him on the shoulder.

"So, your people speak to one another by telepathy, then. So you've no need of radios or the like?"

"No. We were aware of your radios, however, and so we made one to speak with you. We are a dying people, and there are few of us left."

"How few?" Ed couldn't help but ask.

"Too few to continue throwing our lives away with this useless war. Instead of taking your bodies, we should have been taking your people to combine with ours to make new generations. If your organs are compatible, why not your fertility?"

"You said that there were no fertile males of your age. Do you mean that you've come here to find a husband?" Louise shook her head at the idea, although it seemed reasonable.

"I am newly fertile. I will be fertile for a while, and during that time, I must bear children and hope that they will grow up to be fertile, as well. But only those of my father's age are fertile. There are none of my own age, and to mate with my elders is not good. We are all too closely akin."

"Christian Island," Louise murmured, nodding. Seeing the men's puzzlement, she explained. "The island where the Bounty's mutineers went, in the last third of the past century, they had become so inbred that many of them became infertile. They needed to reach beyond their small gene-pool and bring in literally fresh blood." She looked at the alien, "Like her." She was fighting with her natural revulsion against any and all aliens, after what she'd experienced, but at the same time, her curiosity was piqued, wondering if it were possible for their two races to breed. It was an ethical nightmare.

"How will you know if humans are genetically compatible with them?" Alec asked. Of the three of them, he seemed the most at-ease with the concept. For Louise, it was a hard idea to accept, helping to save the race of beings that had destroyed her first husband and child. She could see that her current husband had similar reservations.

"I'll have to do blood tests, to begin with." She shook her head and sighed. "I don't know other than to find a compatible genetic match and simply see if it works." She looked up at her husband, who was definitely showing his discomfort at the entire idea.

"I will tell my ship to go home until I call for them."

"How long does it take for you to come here from your home-world?"

She compressed her lips together and shook her head. "I don't know how to tell 'time' in your fashion."

"You arrived a week ago, and stayed just out of range of our interceptors. It took a day and a half from the time you landed on the moon to now. Does that help?"

"Ah, yes. What you call a 'week' is to us as a day. We were about fifty of our days to come here."

A year. At whatever speed they were capable of; it took them a year to get here. He and Alec exchanged a knowing look.

"Did you bring any of your own food with you?" Louise asked, all business.

"Yes." She pointed to the pouch on her suit. She had to show them how to open it, and then she let them rummage through it. There were a few articles of clothing, which Louise lay out for her, followed by several tubes of what she explained was food.

"Are they all the same?"

"No. Some are sweet, others are not. You may take samples, if you like."

"Thank you." Louise gathered her equipment and took samples from all of the tubes. She'd analyze them as soon as she could, to see if the girl could survive on human foods. She thought they probably could, since Leila had obviously been kept long enough to teach her English and human communication.

Eventually, they left her alone in the quarantine cubicle. She knew she was a prisoner, but they were afraid of her, and with good reason, she thought. Once she was alone, she gratefully dressed in her own clothes and ate a bit from several of the tubes. It was highly concentrated nutrition, so it didn't take very much to satisfy her. Afterwards, with nothing else to do, she stretched out on the cot and went to sleep.

That night, as they settled into their tiny quarters behind Louise's medical office, Ed sighed as he appreciatively watched his bride prepare for bed. She noticed his slight smile as she turned from slipping on her nightgown. Alec's gift for their wedding night had become a custom, and they never wore anything but silk to bed. The sensuousness of the fabric was a constant reminder of one another and the feel of their bodies together. She slid beneath the covers beside him and into his arms.

"Are you all right?"

"I am at this moment. Outside, however, is a very different story. I very much want to skin her alive and send her back, but at the same time, I realize that she's the first one of them to see us as something more than animals to use for their purposes and then discard. It's very hard for me, love."

"I know." He held her close, comforting himself by comforting her. It was all so senseless. The alien woman was right. The answer was in cooperation, not conquest. "What if we're not genetically compatible with them?"

"More importantly, what if we are? Do we say 'let bygones be bygones' and 'hail, fellow, well met'? or do we exact revenge by destroying them?

"I'd hate to think that we were that small, as a species."

She sighed. "Tell that to those who've lost loved ones. Tell Peter Carlin."

He tightened his arms around her. "I know, love. I know."

She sighed. "More than anyone else, I should think. I swear you know the name of every soul lost to them."

"Not quite, but some."


"Yes," he agreed, softly. "But revenge won't bring them back, and destroying them as a species isn't the right answer, either."

"I know that, intellectually speaking, but in here," she pressed a hand over his heart, "In here, I'm screaming in anger and grief over my lost husband and son... and your love is all that's holding me back from that rage."

"I'll have Schroeder take over, then."

"No. I need to do this myself. It's something I need to do to heal."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, my love, I'm sure."

"All right, then, but I'm going to have Lily keep a close watch on you, if that's all right with you."

"It's fine, love." She tilted her face up to kiss him. His lips were soft and undemanding, but tonight, she needed him to be strong for her, and forceful, and as she let her needs be known, he was.

Alec was silent on the ride home. Rachel glanced at him. "Penny for them?"

"Hmmm? Oh. Just thinking."

"About that alien girl?"

"Yeah. Our week is only about a day to them. If that's so, how long do they normally live? Do they age more slowly than we do, or do they use drugs and organ transplants to stave off old age?"

"You're being very philosophical."

Alec chuckled and reached over to take her hand in his. "Comes with the age, lass."

"Oh, laddie, you'll be young forever."

He chuckled. "Tell that to my poor old joints on a cold, damp, winter day."

"Well, today is a cold, damp, spring day, and you seem positively spry!"

"I know," he said, musingly. "That alien girl, something about her. It was like she took my aches and pains into herself, somehow, leaving me good as new. But it only seemed to affect her for a moment, and then she was all excited because we'd 'talked'. They're telepathic. Ed had thought that once, that they might be, but now we've proof."

"And she wants to negotiate a peace treaty?"

He shifted uneasily behind the wheel. "Something like that."

"What's got you so frazzled, laddie?" Her fingers tightened in his grip, then released.

Alec sighed. "Not quite sure. She, uh, had Peter Carlin's sister for a pet, it seems. Leila taught her to speak and understand English. She doesn't always understand, but she's not got the frame of reference we humans do."

"Has anyone told Peter?"

"No. And I don't know that it would be a good idea. He's had enough grief in his life. First his sister, then his parents dying in that fire in '88, followed by his wife and two little girls getting killed by that fool drunk driver a couple of years back." The worst thing about that was that ten years ago, it could have been him driving drunk. Since meeting his wife eight years earlier, his drinking had become limited to the occasional celebratory drink or weekend party, along with the even rarer ale with a football game with the lads.

Rachel nodded. "Mum's the word, then, laddie. What did you telepath to her?"

He chuckled. "She touched her forehead to mine, and I felt a warm, summer breeze and heard wind chimes in the distance, and I was immediately remembering our flight to Paris last month. Next thing I knew, I was flat on my back on the floor, looking up at Ed, who was looking at me worried-like. Louise was taking care of the girl, who seemed surprised that we'd 'talked'." He shook his head and made the turn into their driveway, then grinned. "Said she'd like to go up in a small plane, she did."

"Just as long as it's not with you, laddie," his wife scolded teasingly.

Alec parked the car as he roared with laughter. "No one but you, lass. I never want to fly with anyone but you for the rest of my life and beyond."

Even after seven years of marriage, he still got the door for her every time and held her hand to help her out, and then they held hands all the way into the house.

"Speaking of flying, laddie...." He'd just turned and locked the door behind them. Grinning, he took her hand again and brought it to his lips. "Any time, lass. With you, any time at all."

Wind chimes had no frame of reference for Earth. She willingly described her world to them, how they were a hot planet, with two suns; which information immediately piqued interest as the computers began trying to narrow down the possibilities as to location. Her 'food' and blood were tested and the possibilities of genetic compatibility with humans was probable, but could only be tested with actual conception, pregnancy, and delivery.

"How long is your gestation period?" Louise asked the girl. As she bathed in their water and used their facilities, the green tinge left her skin, making her appear as human as any of them.


"Pregnancy." Seeing the same blank look, she tried again. "How long does it take you to have a baby, once you've mated?"

"Ah, not long, only fifty of our days...weeks?"

Longer than humans took, which was in keeping with their slower maturation. Louise nodded. "All right, thank you. One other question?"


Louise pondered how to word it, and finally gave up and simply asked. "What customs do your people have surrounding the mating process? Do you have multiple fathers to your children, or only one?"

"In the long-before times, our girls would mate with many boys, it was believed to make us stronger. That seems to have been a bad thing, as we have instead become weaker. In my case, I should think it would be good to have many fathers, as the opportunity to save our race would improve."

"Don't your parents love each other?"

"Love?" Leila had spoken of that frequently, and had never been able to convey the emotion to her in a way she could understand. "I do not understand this 'love' of yours." She shifted forward, her curiosity apparent. "Can you show me?" Her hand hesitantly reached out, but halted far short of actually touching her.

Louise had to fight the urge to back away. She kept reminding herself that this girl was innocent in this war; that she was here to make peace. "It's an emotion, a strong feeling for another person."

"Show me?" The hand began to reach out again, and again stopped. "You fear me."

"Not really. I just have to remember that you're here to try and work out a peace agreement and that my hatred for what this war has done to me personally is not important."


"The opposite of love."

Wind chimes frowned, "I understand fear and anger. Leila taught me those, but she could not teach me love or hate. Please, I want to understand. If I cannot, how can I convince my people?"

Louise tried, she really did, but she simply couldn't bring herself to reach out to the girl. Her own hatred was too strong and she knew that would be the only emotion she would project. "I can't. My hatred is too strong, still. I'll see if I can find someone else willing." She quickly withdrew, not looking at her again. Once safely away, she leaned against the wall, gasping for breath as the tears came unbidden and unwanted.


She looked up into her husband's best friend's worried countenance. "Oh, Alec. I know she's the means to peace, but I want to hurt her...hurt her like they hurt me. God help me."

He gathered her into his arms. "It's all right; it will be all right."

She shook her head against him, clinging tightly to his sturdy frame. "It will never be all right."

"You don't know that."

"I know for myself that it will never be all right. I'll never have a child of my own. Thank God Ed has Eddie and Lily. It helps, having his grandchildren about, you know."

Alec had no answer to that. He and his wife were beyond having children and had been when they met, and Ed was even then at the upper limit for survivability for raising a child to adulthood. But Louise was a good deal younger than the rest of them. It hadn't mattered before, but that was before the beautiful, young, and fertile alien had arrived. He knew that she'd struggled with her feelings of anger and hatred, but she'd done her job, coolly and efficiently. And it was taking a toll on her emotions.

When Louise took a deep breath and pulled away, he let her go. "I'm sorry, Alec. She just hit another button, again. She wanted me to explain love and hate to her. I could give her all the hate she could stand and then some, but none of the love, I'm afraid. Maybe you should go and 'talk' to her again. Except for falling flat on your ass, you certainly came out none the worse-for-wear."

"I wanted to talk to you about that." He shifted uncomfortably.

She was instantly all business. "What's wrong? You're having after-effects?"

"Not exactly. The arthritis, it seems to be gone, still."

"What? That was more than a week ago. No symptoms at all?"

"Not a vioxx in more than a week. And look." He windmilled his arms, demonstrating full mobility, something he hadn't had in the nearly ten years she'd known him. She was fascinated.

"I want to run some tests."

He chuckled dryly. "I thought you might." He followed her and readily gave up the samples she wanted for testing. "Meanwhile, I suppose Rachel and I could try and explain love and hate to Wind chimes, if you'd like?"

She sighed in relief. "Would you? I can't imagine anyone being better able to convey the concept than the two of you, providing you don't take her flying with you." She smirked at the private double-entendre and even giggled when he blushed.

"Shouldn't have ever told you about that. But I've got to tell you, Rachel and I have been flying quite a bit, this past week." He stretched, almost preening, "Been a lovely week, nice and quiet, it is."

"Yes. She's kept her word on that, at least. The room is, of course, fully monitored, so I'll have it all on video."

"In which case I'll explain to Rache that we need to keep it clean." He grinned as he stood up and pulled his sleeves down and put his jacket back on. "When d'you want us to come?"

"She knows how I feel, she can sense the fear and revulsion I have for her. I know she wants to reach out to me, but she always stops."

"That's very kind of her, don't you think?"

She looked up into his bland expression and sighed. "You're not helping."

"She's doing everything within her power to understand us, to stop this incessant war. I've been at it for more than thirty years, and I'm tired. Most of us are tired. Most of us have lost friends and/or family. I understand the anger and hatred, but at the same time, I'm willing to get to know her; she's made the first move, it's our turn to take a deep breath, gather up all our courage and reach out. She's come more than half-way, the least we can do is reach out the short distance remaining, in return."

She closed her eyes and nodded. "I know. I know all that, and then I look at her and think of what happened and I want to strike back, hurt them like they hurt me. I know it's wrong, but at the same time, I also know it's part of being human, of what it means to be human. How can I explain that to her?"

"By telling her how you feel. I'll bring Rachel by in a bit and we'll see what happens, all right?"

Louise sighed. "All right. Thanks, Alec."

He smiled and gave her a gentle hug. "Any time. Might I suggest you go and talk to your husband about it all, though? It wouldn't be good for there to develop feelings beyond what you can handle."

She nodded, closing her eyes and rubbing her temples against the pain. "I know. I should turn it all over to someone else, but I'm still the only psychiatrist on staff. No one else is qualified..."

"But most of what's being done is biological, not psychiatric. Why not let Schroeder handle it, instead? He'll give you regular reports, you know."

She lifted bleak eyes to his. "I can't," she whispered.

"Oh, hell," he whispered back, taking her into his arms for a hug. "Let it go, Louise. This girl had nothing to do with what happened. You can't take your hurt out on her, it's not fair, and you know it."

She sobbed and clung to him. "I know that, but it isn't helping."

Alec sighed and shifted so he could reach the phone while still maintaining his embrace. He punched the buttons and in moments was speaking. "Ed, get down to medical, now. Your lass needs you." He hung up without giving the commander a chance to reply. Within less than a minute, an out-of-breath Ed Straker slammed through the door and took his wife from his friend's embrace, holding her tightly.

"What happened? What's wrong? Did she hurt you, love?"

"Ed," Alec softly interrupted him, a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and froze. "She's having trouble dealing with Wind chimes. It's giving her a bad time, trying to deal with all those unresolved feelings from long ago." He looked away from his friend's stricken expression and moved towards the door. "Stay with her and help her deal with it. I'm going to get Rachel and we're going to go talk to the girl."


"You're welcome." He smiled sadly and left them. Ed had known that his wife was having a difficult time dealing with all the emotions dredged up by having to deal with the alien girl, but this was far worse than he'd imagined. He guided her through the office to their private quarters and locked the door behind them. Then he turned all his attention to his bride and her needs, encouraging her to talk and feel, all the while listening with both his ears and his heart.

She cried, and she raged, and she ranted and raved, and then she cried again, and struck out, and then, seeing the bruises she'd left on her husband's body, collapsed again in tears, regretting her fury, her pain, her anguish, and her grief. Through it all, he stayed with her, silent, non-judgmental, and supportive. Finally, they collapsed into exhausted slumber, still tightly holding one another.

"Come along, lass. We've a bit of work to do."

"Oh? What kind?" she asked saucily, a spring in her step to be downstairs with her husband.

"We've been tasked with explaining love and hate to Wind chimes."

"Us?" She stopped and stared at him.

"Us." He stopped and looked at her, smirking.

"Ummm, why us? I mean, why us?"

"Because you and I, lass, can talk about it without getting involved." He looked down the hall towards medical and sighed. "I won't go near her alone again, lass." He shook his head, not sure how to explain himself. "I'll never look at another woman but you, but when we 'talked', mind-to-mind, things happened. I can't explain it, but you've seen it for yourself. I haven't felt this fit in years."

"You've always been strong, laddie."

"But there's been no pain, not even yesterday morning when it was so cold and damp. It's like she did something with the arthritis, lass. Besides, if I'm to be talking to a nice looking girl, I'd just as soon have my wife with me to testify that nothing untoward happens."

"All right, laddie. But why us?"

"Because Louise can't." There was something implacable in his voice that kept her from even asking.

She smiled at them as they entered. She remembered Alec from before, how he'd 'spoken' to her. "Hello?" She looked curiously at Rachel, finding the woman to have a gentle expression.

"Wind chimes, this is my wife, Rachel."


"My mate."

"Ah!" She looked excited, "You have many children?"

Rachel was taken aback and cast a confused glance at her husband, who was rolling his eyes and shaking his head. "Ummm, no. I don't have any children."

"But..." She frowned in confusion. "If you are mates, then why do you have no children?"

"Because I was too old to have children when I met Alec." She smiled at the girl, reacting to the alien woman as she would to a young child. She was wonderful with Alec's grandchildren, which only added to his joy and love of her.

"That is so sad." The girl reached out and touched Rachel's arm and there was a blinding mental flash for both women, as they dimly heard Alec calling to them, loudly.

There was a sound of a rushing wind and distant wind chimes, followed by flowing water and movement. Rachel was confused for a moment, until she 'saw' the young alien woman standing before her, jaw hanging in shock. "You can talk!"

"Of course I can talk. Why do you say that?"

The girl waved her arm to indicate the strange 'room' they were in. "This is your mind. You are 'thinking' to me, the way my people communicate. Can you show me 'love'?"

Just the word evoked a reaction and she immediately thought of her Alec. There was no feeling of movement, really, but everything changed. She closed her eyes and felt him there with her, his hands, his body, his voice. The strength and warmth of his body as well as the enormous emotional bond between them. Her heart began to pound with her feelings for him, the absolute adoration she felt for him, and the wonders of their physical relationship. As she shuddered with delight, she opened her eyes to see Wind chimes staring at her in awe.

"This is love?"

"This is my love for Alec, yes."

"Oh, you are so fortunate! Oh, to feel this with someone."

"With? Yes, I suppose it is 'with', rather than 'for'." She smiled, delighting in the feelings of love that enveloped her. "This is our love." She could sense Alec's arms around her and dimly hear his voice calling to her in the distance. Without thinking, she reached out for him, and instantly, he was there, in her mind.

"Rache? Are you all right, lass?"

"Fine, laddie. Look, this is our love." She indicated the bright colors that surrounded them.

He looked around and saw Wind chimes. "Where is this place?"

"Inside her mind," the alien said in wonder. "None of my kind are this powerful. Oh, how fortunate you all are! Why have you never spoken to us before? There are no reports of your communicating in our manner!" She looked stricken. For her, this was far superior to her own race's ability to communicate. She looked around and shook her head. "We have nothing like this. Oh, how I envy you!"

"This is our love for each other. It's nothing to do with communication, but with emotion," Alec said calmly. "Louise said you wanted to know love and hate. This is our love, mine and my wife's. It's unique to us; do you understand that?"


"Then know also our hate." It didn't take much as they transferred from his wife's mind to his. He thought of Ed and all he'd lost. Of Louise and her anguish over her own losses, and the rage and agony he felt at having to watch one family after another receive the information that their loved one would never return. He wasn't a hateful man, but he understood the emotion.

Wind chimes gasped in horror. "Such darkness!"

"Fear, hate, and anger. They go well together, and are often inseparable." He held strong, clinging to his wife and forcing the alien to see the darkest of human emotions. "This is what it's like, this war of ours. For us. And if you find this terrible, you should try someone who lives with the pain and grief of loss every day. Ask Louise."

"She fears me."

"She hates you."


"Because of what your kind have done to her, personally. They came and murdered her husband before her eyes, stealing what organs they wished. They split her open like a sheep, realized she was pregnant, and left her to die, gathering up her guts and holding herself together, quite literally, as they finished with her lover. I can only reflect her hatred, but this is not mine."

The alien looked about and shuddered. "So strong." She looked infinitely sad. She dropped her face to her hands, shaking. "You cannot help us," she whispered. "There is too much pain for us to bridge the gap. I am sorry."

And suddenly, they were aware of their surroundings, back in the alien's quarantine room.

"You cannot forgive me. I understand, now. I am so sorry." She was on her cot, her knees up under her chin and her arms wrapped around her legs, holding them to her. Alec frowned, finding himself on the floor again. He stood up and helped his wife to her feet. He considered his words carefully.

"It's not you who requires forgiveness, you know. But those who came before you, who considered us nothing more than cattle for their use. You are trying to change the future, but humans aren't always able or willing to let go of the past. There are those whose ancestors were kept as cattle, we called them slaves. The practice was pretty much abolished more than a hundred years ago, but there are still descendants of those same slaves who today are still angry over it, even though they, themselves have never been deprived of their freedom. You cannot atone for the wrongs others have done." He looked into the adoring eyes of his wife and felt her love for him like he'd never been aware of before. "I'll talk to Louise. I think that if you could communicate in your fashion, she might be able to understand and maybe come to grips with it all." He shook his head. "I wish I could offer more."

"It is more than enough. Thank you."

He looked at her. "I want you to meet the brother of the girl you knew, the one who taught you to speak."

She looked at him closely. "If you wish."

He shrugged. "I may be totally daft, but I've 'talked' to you, and you're not evil. I can't honestly say I blame your people for using us, really. But that doesn't make what they've done any more right or wrong."

Wind chimes nodded and leaned back on her cot, unable to hide her exhaustion. "You have such strong emotions. I have trouble understanding it all."

"Don't worry about it, then. You look exhausted. Take it easy and we'll be back later."

"Can we bring you anything?" Rachel added.

"Thank you. I have everything I need, here." She stretched out on the cot and took a deep breath. Alec touched Rachel's arm and motioned her out. Once he'd secured the door behind them, he sighed and rubbed his face with both hands.


"I'm all right. Poor girl. She's taken on the weight of both our worlds on her young shoulders." He shook his head and sighed heavily. "I don't envy her."

"Louise hates her that much?"

"Lass, did you hear what I told her?"

"Yes, laddie. Poor Louise."

"She's not the only one. I want to tell Peter Carlin, but not without Ed's approval." He laughed, but it nearly turned into a sob. "Lord, no one ever thought this far ahead. I think we just thought we'd keep fighting until one side or the other were all dead. I don't think any of us ever considered the possibility of a negotiated peace."


He turned his bleak eyes on her. "Lass, Louise had a bit of a breakdown, earlier. This is perhaps more than she can handle. I called Ed, and he's with her, now. Maybe later, she'll be able to let that poor girl close enough without wanting to dismember her. Maybe if they could talk, they could come to some kind of understanding."

"Poor Ed."

"What?" He looked at her in shock.

"Poor Ed. You heard me. Imagine how I'd feel if you suddenly remembered Susan and had all your good memories of her dredged up? That's what Ed's going through. She's stuck in the past, with her first husband and their unborn child."

"Lassie, you're brilliant!" He grinned at her, swung her up for a kiss and set her back on her feet, shaken. She watched as he barreled down the corridor and she rushed to catch up.


"That's it! Confront her over Ed, lass!"

"Wait, Alec!"

He stopped and turned to her. "Whatever for?"

"Wait until they come out, laddie."

She gave him a cautioning look and he looked blank for a moment, then, "Oh!"


"You heard me. D'you have any idea how much you're tearing Ed up? How can he compete with your first husband? More importantly, why should he have to?"

She was speechless. It had never occurred to her that all the feelings she was experiencing about the alien girl could possibly be hurting her relationship with her current husband. She shook her head in denial. "He'd have said something."

"You must be joking. Ed Straker admit to personal emotional pain and turmoil? Remember who we're talking about, here."


"But he held you all night with never a word while you cried and grieved all over again? Good thing he's always worn polarnecks and long sleeves. He nearly fell down when I grabbed his shoulder, earlier." There was no censure in his voice or expression, only concern.

She buried her face in her hands with a groan. "I beat him up. I was so angry, and I took it all out on him and he never complained. It wasn't until I'd seen what I had done that I realized. Alec, what am I going to do?"

"I can't answer that, as you well know. That's something you're going to have to figure out for yourself. Just try and remember that we all understand and are here for you. At the same time, we have to continue trying to work out a peace agreement with them. She's just a girl, by her people's standards. I was figuring it out and she's actually older than I am, but that's immaterial. Our species are similar enough that there is a possibility of interbreeding." He paused, debating with himself for just a moment. "All I'm really asking is that you don't drive Ed away. He's alive and needs you. Tom Lewis is not."

Her breath caught and she looked stricken. Finally, however, she nodded. "I need to put some distance between me and that girl. I realize that. Schroeder will be taking over."

"All right. Look, if you want to talk, Rache and I are more than willing to listen."

She smiled up at him. "I know. Thanks, Alec."

He stood and headed for the door. "You're welcome. Now, I'm going to go grab my lovely bride and we are taking off for a few hours to go out to the airfield. I'll have my mobile, in case anyone needs me."

"All right, oh, and before you go, I got the results of your blood tests back." He stopped and turned to look at her, curious and worried. "There was no sign of arthritis." She shrugged. "No explanation, but you're fine."

He grinned. "I'm better than that, and Rache and I are going to go test it out." He winked and exited to her amused chuckle.

"Hey, Peter! Welcome back. Have you seen the alien, yet?"

Peter Carlin, just returning from medical leave, frowned. "Alien?"

"Yeah, she's down in quarantine in the medlab. Just a kid, really, but she can speak English, and says she wants to negotiate a treaty." The man snorted a laugh, "Can you believe it? They sent a little girl to negotiate?"

"No, I hadn't heard. When did she arrive?"

"Week and a half ago, or there-abouts. I've heard she's a pretty little thing. You've got to go down to get put back on duty, you ought to take a look while you're at it."

"Yeah, I probably should. Thanks, Todd."

"You're welcome, buddy. Catch you later."

"Yeah, later." He shook his head, wondering if Todd was teasing him or not. Deciding that standing around in a daze wasn't going to help in the least, he headed down to medical to get re-certified fit for duty, and see if it was true that there was a female alien down there.

She looked like a pubescent teenager. There was only the faintest of greenish tinge left to her skin. She was lying down, apparently asleep. He watched her, his emotions running the gamut from hatred to anger to curiosity, with the curiosity, oddly enough, winning. The girl shifted and her eyes opened and focused on him. His heart thumped hard, once, and settled back into a steady, if slightly elevated, rhythm.

He checked the door, unlocked it, and entered.

She awoke to see a man watching her. She smiled at him and saw his expression turn to one of surprise. She sat up as he entered. She placed his age as older than the lady who hated her, but younger than the others. "Hello," she greeted him politely.

She had a voice like his sister's, he decided, the memory causing tears to spring into his eyes. "Hello."

She tilted her head at him, wondering why he was here. There was a warm, almost familiar scent about him that she decided she liked. Perhaps he was here to breed with her?

"Why did you come?"

"To end the fighting?" Her chin came up in determination. "My people are dying, and simply destroying your people to prolong the lives of the elders is foolish. If we have any hope of survival as a people, we need new, fertile boys. There are no boys of my age who are fertile, and by the time the younger ones are old enough to discover if they will be fertile or not, it will be too late."

His mouth opened in shock. "You're here to find a mate?"

She smiled shyly, "To end the fighting and to save my people. Yes." She looked at him. "Can you telepath?"

"Erm, no. I don't think so."

"May I try?"

"I suppose so." He nervously allowed her to guide him to a seat on the cot beside her and she gently held his hand and pressed her forehead against his. He heard a sound of distant wind chimes and felt a warm, comfortable presence. Mentally, he opened his eyes to see the girl. "What is this?"

"This is how my people communicate, thought to thought. I've learned that your kind can only mind-speak if I'm touching you. Is this all right?"

"Yes. How did you learn to speak English?"

Smiling, she gave him her memories of her friend, from the moment her father brought her home to the time she ran away, and her grief and remorse following Leila's death.

He was fascinated and horrified at the same time. Leila! His heart screamed in horror with the knowledge of what had happened to her, and even though he pulled away in anguish, the memories had been transferred and he knew. Knew everything.

He found himself pressed against the wall, screaming in agony. When his vision cleared, he saw the girl, eyes wide in horror and grief. For a moment, the homicidal rage surged through his veins, but then the alien's own pain over the loss of his sister registered. Gulping down great draughts of air, he forced himself to calm down. "How could you?"

She looked at him sorrowfully. "Because I didn't know. I was still but a child among my kind. We grow far more slowly than you do. I did not know until very recently that my father approved of her fate; I've refused to speak to him since." There was great pain and sadness in her expression, even though to most humans, she'd have appeared totally stoic.

"You cared for her."

"She was my friend, and I have missed her every day since. I have told the council that our future is not in prolonging the lives of our aged, but in new generations, in children. Only six percent of our females are fertile, and our childbearing time is limited. There have been no fertile males this generation. Without new blood, we are doomed, and your kind has become very proficient in defending yourselves from us. I know how hard it is for you to understand, but we need to end the fighting. My kind needs to realize that you are not our enemy, nor fodder for our use, but our only hope for survival as a species." She reached out to touch him again, drawing her hand back before actually making contact, fearful of his rejection.

To her, as well as his own surprise, he reached out and took her hand. Instantly, his mind was flooded with her memories of his sister, and he fell into her arms, sobbing as he experienced her memories, most of which were good. She held him as she'd seen Alec and Ed hold their wives and felt his hot tears soaking through her shift. Her kind didn't have the capability of crying, but she could feel his emotions as he sobbed, and she felt every one as he worked through his grief. To her surprise, she felt none of the black hate she expected from him, only his pain and grief. She didn't understand that he had long ago worked through his anger at the loss of his sister, that kind of anger and hate was directed at the most recent loss in his life, his wife and children. He conveyed none of that to her, however, so she was able to absorb his pain and help him to heal.

He cried himself to sleep against her, and she allowed him to rest, stretching out on her cot and bringing him down beside her in a more comfortable position. His warm body would jerk as he occasionally sobbed, even in his sleep, but it gave her the opportunity to continue communicating with him even as he slept. She did not probe his thoughts, but because they were touching, he practically broadcast them as he relived his last day with his sister and their friends. Then, however, his thoughts moved to his other losses, his parents, his wife and children, and she ached for him.

How her people could ever think of these humans as in any way lesser beings than they were, astounded her.

Anne. No, not Anne. Anne was gone. This was... he stiffened as he remembered. Alien. But there was a whisper of a soft breeze and musical wind chimes in the distance, and he was warm, and comfortable, and the body beside him exuded comfort like a wave of heat, and he didn't try to resist it; it had been so very long since he'd felt this relaxed and comfortable. He shifted slightly, pulling her closer to him and soaking in her soothing warmth. He let his mind wander and found her there with him.

*"Are you all right, now?"*

*"I'll never be all right again, but better, yes."*

*"I am sorry. I did not mean to hurt you."*

*"You didn't, not really. It wasn't your fault."*

*"But it was the fault of my people."*

He mentally shrugged. *"But they are not you. You want to bring the fighting to an end, and save what's left of your race. I can't blame you for that; in fact, I think I would say that you're doing more than anyone else ever has, or could, to bring peace to both sides."*

*"You are very forgiving; not like most of your people."*

*"I've had a long time to get used to the idea of my loss, and Leila's loss was just my first. I used my anger over her loss to become the best killer of your people I could, but since then, I've lost others I loved, and in far more senseless ways. My father fell asleep smoking and he and my mother died in the resulting fire. Then, my wife and daughters died because another of my own kind decided to get drunk out of his mind and then drive a lorry."* He sighed. *"That was far more senseless than what your people have done, trying to survive."*

Her gratitude was almost palpable as she hugged him tightly, both mentally and physically. To his surprise, his body responded, rather inappropriately, he thought. This was a mere child.

She caught his thought and laughed, releasing him. "I am young for my people, but old as you see age."

"I don't understand?" He reluctantly sat up and ran his hands through his hair to smooth it down.

"As you measure time, I am older than the one you call Alec. For my people, I am just out of childhood."

He was speechless. He shook his head in wonder and stood. He glanced at his watch and groaned. "I'm late. They're going to skin me alive. I have to go." He stopped at the door, realizing that she could have escaped while he slept; but she hadn't. "May I visit you again?" He sent a strong chastisement to his body to calm down, that that wasn't why he wanted to see her again.

She smiled. "I would like that."

He smiled at her and slipped out the door, locking it behind him. He turned to continue his interrupted trip to regain his active status, only to find his way blocked by the bulk of Alec Freeman.

Alec looked from Peter's hand on the lock of the alien's door to the younger man's face, horrified. "What have you done, Captain Carlin?"

Peter looked blandly up at SHADO's second in command. "I, uh, met the alien girl."


Peter realized from both voice and body language that Alec knew. He looked calmly up into the worried blue eyes. "She told me everything."

"And?" there was a hint of panic in his voice.

Peter shrugged, a bit embarrassed. "I forgave her."

Alec's breath caught. "You...you what?"

"Forgave her?" He shook his head. "She was a child. She did her best to keep Leila alive as long as she could." He looked up at Alec with a worried frown. "Did you know that when she found out that her father okayed Leila's murder that she refused to speak to him again? That was about the time she convinced them to let her come here." He shook his head again. "She's brave, I'll give her that."

Alec let out a silent sigh of relief. "She is. Very brave."

"Well, I'm late, now. I'd better get down to Dr. Straker before she sends out the guards to find me." He smiled and moved to pass Alec.

"Did she tell why she's here?"

Peter stopped and looked back. "To save her people. Yes."

"Did she tell you how she intends to do that?"

Carlin frowned, and then shook his head. "Not exactly. She mentioned 'fertile boys', if that means anything. How?"

"By having sex with a fertile human male. She's one of six percent of their female population that's fertile. There are no males of her generation. What do you suppose are her chances, since it's only ethical to tell the man up front the purpose?"

Peter sighed. "Here? Practically nil."

"Right. It's not like we can exactly advertise for it, now is it?"

"What are you getting at, Colonel?"

Alec looked into the distance. "Can you forgive her that much?" He brought his gaze back to the younger man and waited.

Peter Carlin was shocked speechless. Could.... With that child? He took a couple of deep breaths. "I don't know." But he did, his body responded at the concept, and he knew that Freeman knew it. He blushed in embarrassment. "She's just a child."

"By her people's standards, yes. But she's lived longer than I have. Think about it." He turned to continue his journey down the hall, then paused and turned back for one last thought. "Oh, and if you think you can, tell Louise what happened. How you've found it within yourself to forgive the girl, would you? She's having a bit of a hard time with the idea."

Peter wasn't quite certain what was being asked of him, but nodded. "Yes, sir. I'll do what I can."

"Thank you, Peter. And welcome back."

Peter stared after the Colonel long after he'd passed from sight, wondering. Then, with a shrug, he turned back to complete his own mission.

She was furious. How could he forgive so easily? How dare he forgive them? She'd returned him to duty and suggested he get back to his ship as soon as he was able. He looked at her calmly and informed her that he still had more leave time than he should have. She grudgingly accepted his announcement and released him to clear his time off with the commander. As soon as the door closed behind him, she began fuming.

She picked up the paperweight her husband had had made for her and almost smashed it against the wall, fortunately, she was too angry to aim well and instead, it struck one of the visitors' chairs. Realizing what she had almost done, she choked on a sob and ran out and down the hallway. Fortunately, no one saw her go and she got upstairs and out into the studio grounds. Almost blindly, she stormed out into the woods, tears streaming down her face with her pain and anger. She was almost running, but there was no escaping her thoughts and memories.

Eventually, she came to the fence and had to stop. Gasping for breath, she sank to the ground, sobbing. She never noticed that it had begun to rain. She was shivering, soaked through and nearly hypothermic, but she was still crying so hard that she never heard the soft footsteps approach and was totally unaware anyone was near until she felt the warm fabric of a mackinaw draped across her heaving shoulders. Blinking the tears and rain from her eyes, she looked up to find her husband, bareheaded and concerned, looking down at her.

"I'm sorry," he softly spoke, his blue eyes filled with shared grief.

Seeing him there, she surged to her feet and into his arms. "Oh, Ed. I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she wailed, wrapping her arms around him and hugging him fiercely.

"It's all right, love. I understand." And he did. It didn't ease his pain, but it was enough to ease hers, for now.

"It's not fair. He lost his sister, but he can forgive them. How can he do that?"

"Because the losses he's had since then have taught him that there is more loss right here on earth than the aliens have wrought through the centuries."

She pulled away slightly and stared up into his face, searching for answers that no one really had. "What do you mean?" she whispered.

"I mean that first he lost his sister, and learned to hate the aliens. He's been one of our best, practically from the beginning, because of his hatred; but in the past fifteen years, he lost his parents to a foolish smoking accident, and his wife and daughters to a drunk driver. Do you know how devastated Alec was at that? How he kept saying that it could have been him?" She nodded, remembering the long counseling sessions she'd had with him. Come to think of it, she hadn't seen him take a drink, since.

"The aliens had nothing to do with either of those tragedies, and he lost five people he loved with everything in him, right here on earth. The single loss of his sister has eased into the background in light of these fresher instances. It's not as though the aliens had come back and taken the rest of his family, now, is it?"

"No, of course not." She leaned against him, relishing his arms around her and the warmth of his body where it pressed against hers.

"In light of that, he's found it within himself to forgive. That girl had nothing to do with what's happened, Louise. She's as much a victim in this as any human. But she did something no one else on her planet ever thought of, to simply talk to us and ask for our help in saving what's left of her people."

"We're genetically compatible with them," she whispered hoarsely.

"I thought we might be. Is this going to be a problem for you?"

She took a deep, shuddering breath. "Not as long as you hold me tight and remind me that you love me."

"I'll love you forever and beyond, my love."

"Thank you. I've undeservedly put you through hell over all this, and I'm sorry."

"Shhh, it's all right, love. I understand."

She looked up at him, fresh tears falling; only this time, they weren't from anger or pain. "I know, and I don't deserve it, but I'm so very grateful."

He held her tightly and softly murmured, "I love you."

"And I love you." She shivered; despite the warm coat, she was soaked through and cold.

"Come on, let's head back, shall we?"

"All right."

They were nearly back to the studio buildings when she made a surprising announcement. "I want to talk to the girl."

Never breaking stride, her husband glanced down at her, his arm across her shoulders. "Are you sure?"

"No. But I think I have to. Like you said, it's not fair to her."

He hugged her closer to him as they walked, "All right. Do you want anyone with you?" He was concerned for her well-being.


"Certainly. How about Alec and Rachel?" He thought the steadiness of their friends might be useful.

"All right."


"The sooner, the better." He nodded and they continued making their way back down to SHADO.

Wind chimes was nervous. She was well aware of how Louise felt about her, but the gentle ones, Alec and Rachel would be there, and she would be able to depend on them to protect her, if needed. The white-haired one, Ed, was looking worried. She hadn't yet attempted to 'speak' to him in her people's fashion, and because of his close kinship with his mate she was concerned. Even Alec and Rachel seemed somewhat agitated. Finally, Louise took a deep breath and tried to smile at her.

"Well, we might as well get on with it." She sat beside the girl at the table in the small conference room they were using. Taking a deep breath, she reached out and grasped the alien's hands in hers. Both women closed their eyes and Wind chimes eased towards her until their foreheads touched.

Fear. Abject terror. Horror. Pain, anger, rage, hate. It was so much stronger and darker than Alec had indicated. She was trapped in the human woman's mind, unable to escape. She couldn't cry out, couldn't break away; she was helpless. Then there was a warm, calming presence that enveloped her and she recognized Alec and Rachel, sharing their love with her, protecting her from Louise's dark emotions.

*"Stop it!"* The mental shout snapped Louise from her hateful emotions like a slap. *"Look at her. She's a child. You're going to hurt her because someone else hurt you? And you're a doctor? Where's your humanity, Louise? 'First do no harm.' Remember that? She's come to bring peace, not hurt us. She'd like us to help save her race, but that's not a requirement of the peace she's offering. She simply wants to honour the memory of her friend. Is your hatred so much that you're willing to continue a war to have your revenge?"*

She struggled with her emotions, the hatred and fear. Then she felt her husband's arms around her, holding her close, and he was suddenly there with her. It was dark, with hot, hurtful colors swirling about like a mist. *"What is this place?"*

*"This is inside your mind. These are your emotions, your hate, your fear, your anger. Look at them."*

She looked. In the darkness, she could make out figures, and by groping towards them, found her husband and their friends, and a small, frightened child. The child looked up at her with enormous green-gold eyes; eyes filled with pain and anguish.

*"Why are you feeling like this?"* she softly asked the child, and the mists lightened a bit.

*"I am so sorry for the hurt my people have done to you. I am not able to cry, like you can. I understand that you can never forgive us for what happened to you, but please, don't destroy me."*

Her breath caught as she realized that Wind chimes feared her with her hatred and strong, dark emotions. She saw the alien as the others saw her, as a child, seeking to right wrongs she'd had nothing to do with. With the realization that she was being as unfeeling and uncaring as the aliens had been, her heart broke and she began a cathartic sobbing. With the support of her husband and friends, the dark place lightened as their love for her chased away the shadows of her dark emotions, replacing them with warmth and light. When she was ready, they mentally backed away, leaving her to face Wind chimes on her own.

Swallowing hard, she looked at the girl and saw great sorrow and still a touch of fear. She took a deep breath. *"I'm sorry. I know what happened wasn't your fault."*

The girl nodded. *"But it was my people who have done this. For so long, you have been portrayed to my people as unintelligent animals, incapable of communication or reasoned thought. It never occurred to anyone that there are more ways of communication than ours. Leila taught me what she could, but she was a child, like me, and she didn't know as much as you do. She could not speak in my people's fashion; she was too... loud. She made my head hurt. The other man, Peter? He said it was because she was a 'chatterbox'. What is that?"*

*"Someone who talks constantly and often without meaning,"* Louise explained. She was beginning to relax as she realized that this really was just a girl, different, perhaps, but still a girl. Almost human. Almost. The realization that her hatred had hurt the girl and Alec had been forced to step in and stop her had shocked her into seeing the truth. She could sense her husband's presence, close, but not quite touching, and she suddenly wanted his touch, his reassurance that they were all right, still. The moment she thought it, he was there, warm and solid behind her. She sighed and leaned back against him, feeling his arms wrap around her, and his breath warm in her hair.

*"Hey, now. None of that, you two. And to think that you expressed concern about Rachel and me showing too much."* Even via telepathy, the amusement in Alec's 'voice' was obvious. Louise looked at him and frowned. Ed, on the other hand, stuck his tongue out at them.

*"It's not like we're going 'flying', now, is it?"*

Alec chuckled. *"Isn't it?"*

Louise watched in wonder as the atmosphere lightened and brightened, the colors changing from dark and angry to light and, not happy, exactly, but certainly more hopeful. She looked at the alien girl and finally began to see what the others saw; a girl who had to be the bravest of her people, to come here to try and not only negotiate peace, but to ask for help in saving her race. Then she thought of all they could learn from them. How they avoided organ rejection, for one. Their transplant procedures, for another. Perhaps they even had cures for some of the still-unconquered diseases here on earth?

*"What is 'disease'?"*

*"Illness. Sickness."*

The alien girl didn't understand and Louise suddenly wanted to talk to one of their doctors.

Wind chimes looked pale and Rachel was the first to notice. She nudged her husband, who looked where she indicated and nodded. *"What say we go back to talking normally? For humans, I mean?"* When Ed frowned at him, he simply looked pointedly at the girl and immediately Ed nodded his agreement. Within moments they were again at the small conference table. Alec was the first one able to move and he rose and immediately went to the alien girl to see if she was all right.

"Wind chimes?"

She looked up into his concerned face and found herself leaning into him. She knew perfectly well that he belonged to Rachel; but here and now, she needed his comfort and support. A moment later, she felt his arms around her, and she leaned against his chest. His mind was like a warm, comforting blanket, soothing her in a manner she wished her own father could have. A moment later, Rachel's arms were about her, as well, and their innate kindness would have had her in tears, were she capable of them. Her mind reached out to them, her soul soaking up their tender care like a dry sponge soaks up fluid. Unrealized by any of them, at the same time she was receiving their support, she was broadcasting something to them; unknowingly sharing her people's strengths with the older couple.

While Alec and Rachel took care of Wind chimes, Ed comforted his wife. Thankfully, Louise quickly recovered and looked at the young alien in concern. She still had a lot to work through, but at least she no longer saw this 'child' as a figure to vent her grief and hatred on; and her husband's strong arm about her shoulders reminded her that she'd gained as well as lost in this war.

"Is she all right?" Louise asked softly, concern on her face and in her voice.

Rachel looked over at her and smiled. "She'll be fine, just a bit overwhelmed, is all."

Louise frowned, wondering what struck her as odd about their friends. Unable to pinpoint what was bothering her, she shrugged it off.

Physically drained and emotionally exhausted, Ed insisted that they all go home. Wind chimes was equally weary and was grateful to be left alone.

Alec slid into bed beside his wife. She greeted him with a smile and open arms. Snuggling together, he kissed her; which, as usual, led to more intimate caresses, and soon they were making love.

He felt the touch of her mind in his and he opened to her. In moments, he realized that he was feeling what he was doing from her, and from her gasp, knew she was feeling what he was. As their bodies moved together, their minds did, as well, and the sensations were the most intense either had ever felt. Finally, hearts pounding and bodies completely spent, they collapsed together into exhaustion. Even as they slept, their minds were intertwined much the same way their bodies were.

Their life together had changed forever, and for the better.

They had only been married six and a half years, but had developed a bit of 'couple's telepathy' even before they had wed. Now, however, words were unneeded at all. They didn't even realize that they weren't speaking aloud to each other.

Driving in to work, they 'chattered' away together, closer than they'd ever imagined they could be. Arriving at the studio, Alec gave her a kiss and a wish for a good day for her and headed below, while she headed for the cafeteria for a pot of tea before going to her office aboveground.

"Good morning, Rachel," Paul Foster was thrilled to find her alone. His latest film was in need of her expertise in advertising and he hadn't been able to catch her alone. It never occurred to him to simply make an appointment to see her in her office.

"Good morning, Mr. Foster." She moved away from him, not realizing that by doing so, she was cornering herself. He eased closer again.

"You look absolutely ravishing, this morning." He was almost touching her, and she was now in a corner, with no easy way to escape. There were a couple of dozen people around, so she still didn't feel threatened, but she was decidedly uncomfortable, having him so close.

"Thank you. Please move. You're blocking my way."

"I wanted to talk to you about my current film." He eased closer to her, until they were nearly touching. He poured out all his charm, lowering his voice to a husky drawl. "It desperately needs your special touch, I think." He pressed against her; she was a beautiful woman, and his body reacted the way it always did when in close proximity to a beautiful woman.

Feeling him press against her, she reacted. Drawing back her right hand, she slapped him, hard. He reeled back, startled, only to find himself spun about and lifted from the floor. Eyes wide in shock, he stared down into the furious blue eyes of Alec Freeman and started gasping for breath.

Alec hadn't even made it to the elevator when he sensed that Rachel was in distress. Focusing his thoughts on her, he realized what was happening, and with a soft growl, reversed directions and headed for the cafeteria. Upon arrival, he spotted his wife pinned in the corner by Foster. She wasn't afraid, but was definitely annoyed. He saw Paul press his body against his Rachel, and that was all he needed. Striding purposefully across the room, he snatched up a spoon from someone's table in his left hand as his wife soundly slapped her annoyance. He grabbed the startled Foster by the shoulder and spun him around.

With his right hand, he grabbed Paul by his jacket collar and lifted him from the floor. With a growl, he softly snarled, "I warned you once what I'd do to you if you ever came near my lass." He lifted the grapefruit spoon in his left hand to remind the younger man. His fury turned to confusion as his nose indicated.... He looked down and realized that Foster had just wet himself.

"Alec," Rachel softly interjected and, seeing that she was fine and sensing her annoyance turning to amusement, he flung Foster away from him. The younger man landed against the wall he'd cornered Rachel against and slid to the floor, staring up at the older man in terror. When Alec leaned down to speak to him, he cringed away from him.

"Lucky for you your trousers are dark. Maybe no one will notice. If you need to speak to my wife, make sure it's on business, and that you make an appointment, in future." He dropped the spoon on the wet spot on Foster's pants before moving away. He turned to his wife and slid an arm possessively around her; leaning down, he kissed her.

Every man in the room pointedly ignored what happened. Alec Freeman was all alpha male and every man there knew it and was unwilling to offer any challenge. Every woman, on the other hand, was looking at him in admiration and at Rachel with envy.

"Can I get you anything, Mr. Freeman?"

He turned to the girl who worked the counter. "What? Oh, thank you, Doris. A pot of tea to go, please?"

She smiled at him. "Certainly, sir. I'll fix you a tray. Shall I send it to Mrs. Freeman's office?"

Calmed down, now, he smiled back at the girl. "That's all right. We'll take it ourselves."

"Yes, sir." Doris turned away to get their order.

Foster, seeing his opportunity, scuttled away and did his best to slip out without drawing any more attention to himself. He was lucky, as those who did notice him gave him commiserating glances, while carefully not looking at the Freemans. All female eyes were still focused longingly on Alec or enviously on Rachel.

Safely away, he went straight to his car and home to shower and change. He tried to reassure himself that he'd have been just fine, if Freeman hadn't actually had a grapefruit spoon in his hand. He was amazed that the old man had the strength to lift his seventeen and a half stone; and to make him dangle like that! He shivered and barely kept his bladder under control.

"Alec, what did you do to Foster?" Ed had only heard bits and pieces, but no one had been close enough to be sure exactly what happened.

"What? Oh, that. He got fresh with my wife. I told him off."

"You picked him up and threw him?" Ed looked critically at his friend; except for moving like he wasn't in pain, he couldn't really see any obvious difference, but there was something....

"I suppose I did." He shrugged. "He'd got her trapped in a corner and was pressing against her. She slapped him, and I finished the lesson."

Ed raised a slightly disbelieving eyebrow. "By hoisting him off the floor with one hand and throwing him against a wall?"

Alec blushed slightly. "Seemed like a good idea at the time?"

"Did you hurt him?" He wondered about how he'd managed to lift Foster's bulk. The man had certainly packed on the pounds in the past few years.

"I don't think so. Although...."


"Well, I hoisted him up and showed him a grapefruit spoon I'd snatched from someone's table. He wet himself." He was gazing at the floor and raised just his eyes to gage Ed's reaction.

Ed's first reaction was shock, followed by speculation, and then amusement. "Well, he did touch your wife."

Alec's head lifted up and his mouth formed a tight line. "He did. She'd asked him to back away, and he pressed against her."

"You don't think her slapping him was sufficient?"

Alec shrugged. "It might have been, but I was there, by then, and I just reacted, I'm afraid. I did tell him to stay away from her."

"When was that?" Ed frowned.

"Back before we got married. My first day back, in fact."

"That was seven years ago."

Alec shrugged again. "So?"

"What made you go to the cafeteria?"

"Rachel was upset by his advances, so I just came to her rescue."

"Alec, you were in the outer office when you suddenly looked angry, according to Miss Ealand, and then you spun on your heel and took off. How did you know?"

Alec frowned. How did he know? He blinked several times, trying to figure it out, and he felt the lightest touch of his wife's mind and realized. Paling, he turned shocked eyes to his friend. "I heard her thoughts," he whispered.

Ed's breath caught as his eyes widened. "You heard her thoughts?"


"Bloody hell."

"What have you done to us?"

"Done to you?" She shook her head, confused. "Nothing. I don't understand."

"I can hear my wife's thoughts from a hundred yards away. We could never do that before. What did you do?"

Wind chimes was afraid. "I don't know."

"Leave her alone." Louise stood in the doorway, imperious. Ed and Alec turned to her in surprise. She smiled at the girl. "I know what happened. It wasn't anything anyone did." She looked at her husband. "When Alec first let her 'speak' to him via telepathy, that contact cured his arthritis. I have no explanation how or why, but it happened. Then both Alec and Rachel allowed Wind chimes to telepath with them. Humans have some telepathic abilities. The contact simply opened up the channels, as it were." She smiled at the girl. "I wouldn't worry about it. Just don't start reading everyone's minds, all right?"

Alec grinned in relief. "I think it's just the two of us, we just seem to be constantly aware of one another."

Rachel smiled and hugged her husband. "Yes, we are."

Louise watched them, slightly envious of how much closer they'd become in just the brief time that the alien girl had been there. She quickly chastised herself and remembered that the girl had a name, of sorts. "Wind chimes, would you 'speak' to Ed and me again?" Everyone looked at her in surprise. She blushed slightly and looked down, not meeting anyone's eyes. "I want to know if Ed and I can develop that same closeness you have. Partly, it will prove the theory; more importantly, I would love to be able to have the closeness you two share, with my husband." She lifted her head and looked Alec square in the eyes. Expecting censure, she found him grinning.

"Wind chimes? What do you think?"

The alien girl smiled shyly. "I will do what I can." She reached out and gently took Louise with one hand, and Ed with the other. Ed cast a suddenly worried glance at Alec, but was reassured by his smile and gave in. Within moments, they were in their minds, talking.

Late that night.

He felt his hand on her breast as though it were she, touching him. He'd never had any idea just how sensitive she was, and he gentled his touch. At the same time, he knew that she felt what his body felt. The sensations as they made love were nearly overwhelming. The idea of going back to just being 'normal' was anathema. This was a gift they could never repay, except by helping the girl with her mission. But where to find her a man willing to join with her?

He sensed Louise's amused annoyance. *"Not now!"* she complained, twisting her body to regain his full attention. With a mental chuckle, he turned his attention to his wife and all thoughts but those about one another were banished until they awoke from an exhausted slumber.

Alec and Rachel had always enjoyed an excellent sex life; now, however, the mental connection made it so much better than they could ever have imagined. This new ability to share memories and ideas only brought them closer.

"Now I know what the Bible meant."

Alec shook his head in confusion. "What?"

"In the Bible, where it says 'and a man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home and the two shall be one flesh.' Now I understand. I wonder if this was quite what was meant?"

"If it was, then humanity has certainly been missing the boat for eons." He snuggled her closer, enjoying her enjoyment of his enjoyment of....ad infinitum. She chuckled at his confusion.

"Have I told you recently just how much I love you, Alec Freeman?"

"Not in so many words, perhaps, but yes. With every touch, every whisper, every shared moment." His eyes were closed, experiencing what she felt and practically wallowing in it. "I do love you with every fiber of my being, Rachel Post Freeman."

"Oh, laddie."

"My lass."

"Yours, always and forever."

"Always and forever."

With what had become their ritual completed, they settled into a restful slumber, minds and bodies, hearts and souls, entwined.

He wasn't quite sure what he was doing, but she'd known his sister, and they had been friends. He found himself fascinated by her. He looked through the window at the sleeping young alien. She seemed to sense him there, and she opened her eyes to look at him. Recognizing him, she smiled shyly. Gnawing on his lower lip, he took a deep breath and entered the small room.

"I hope I didn't wake you?"

"No." She sat up, gazing at him in curiosity.

"Can I get you anything?"

She smiled and shook her head. "I'm fine, thank you." She watched him as he nervously shifted. "Won't you sit down?" she offered. With a smile, he pulled up a chair, sitting close to her bed.

"Thanks. He looked at her, a myriad of emotions going through his mind as he looked at her. Some of them quite inappropriate, except... *"Can you forgive her that much?"* His body certainly thought so. But what about his heart? If he did, if they did, what would happen? If it worked, and that was a very large 'if' indeed, then she'd take their child back to her world and he'd never see them again. He'd never had Foster's penchant for lots of women. He'd always needed a strong relationship to go with the sex. What was he doing here? The realization made him sigh. He was trying to develop the 'proper' feelings for this girl. He looked at her and found her to be watching him back, curious, tentative, uncertain. Much the same things he was feeling.

"Tell me about yourself?" he finally asked.

She sensed the turmoil he was in, and when he asked her to tell him about her world and her life, she reached out a hand to touch him, and immediately, they were communicating in her people's fashion. He was so calm on the outside, but in his mind, the turmoil was far more apparent. Realizing what he was contemplating, she smiled. *"Teach me,"* she spoke to him in his mind as she drew him from his chair to her bed, urging him to lie beside her. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close, still very uncertain of his motives. They mentally shared and discussed his concerns as well as their desires. They fell asleep together, still unresolved.

In the morning, Louise stopped off to speak with Wind chimes, only to be surprised to find Peter Carlin sleeping with her. Since they were both on top of the covers, and dressed, she wasn't concerned, but she did want to have a talk with the girl about the physiological differences between their species. And there were some significant differences. She watched them sleep and wondered if they were mentally connected. She shook her head. How ironic that Peter Carlin's sister's abduction had not only brought him to this point, but the alien girl as well. It was almost enough to renew her belief in some Devine Providence. With a bemused smile, she left them alone and continued down the hallway to her office.

Wind chimes stirred slightly and awoke. She was a bit surprised to find Peter still there, but was glad he was. She opened her mind to his and was surprised. Her kind didn't dream, usually, and she'd never experienced what he was dreaming about, but she avidly watched his thoughts. She shivered slightly when she realized he was dreaming about her. His thoughts were almost tactile, and by letting herself relax into his mind, she was able to share the physical sensations. She was startled to discover he was dreaming of intercourse with her, but she was careful to note the physiological differences between what he imagined and her own reality. When he began to physically nuzzle at her breast, she reacted in accordance with what he was dreaming, lifting her shift to grant him better access. Then, when his hand drifted down her body, she very carefully shifted to accommodate him. Unfortunately, she wasn't human, so although his touch was pleasant, it didn't arouse her as it did in his dream. Still, it was very nice and she enjoyed his touch. Even though he was asleep, it gave her hope. If he could dream of mating with her, perhaps he'd be willing to actually perform that service for her when he was awake. She refocused on his dream and realized he was trying to deal with that very concept. She frowned as he thought of her leaving with their child. That had never occurred to her. Should they prove genetically compatible, the resultant offspring would be as much the father's as hers. As Leila had taught her, children weren't like pets, to be given away or cast off; not that she'd ever cast a child away, they were far too precious. His dream ended and he continued to sleep. She let her mind drift, considering the ramifications of what she was asking of her hosts. She stiffened as she received a communication from home, asking how negotiations were coming.

*"Better than you might have expected. I've been able to communicate with some of them in our fashion. They are considering our request."*

*"Request! You should demand!"*

She laughed. *"Be serious. Of all the humans I've met, only two were not fertile."* She waited for the shock and excitement to fade. *"I may have found a male with whom to mate. He is the brother of the girl who taught me to speak their language."* There was a long silence as this information was digested.

*"Should we come for you?"*

*"Not yet. I've agreed to remain here until we know that interbreeding is possible."*

*"Our young females are anxiously waiting. There are nearly a hundred, ready and willing to go to Earth right now in hopes of finding a mate."*

Wind chimes frowned, a bit worriedly. *"I don't know if that is wise. We first must determine if it is a viable plan. Their doctors seem hopeful, but because of the war, they are worried that there will be few, if any, willing to consort with the enemy. Remember, we've used them for parts for our elders for generations."* There was a long, concerned silence, and then, finally, she received a response.

*"Unfortunately, that is all too true. But if you can find one viable male, surely there will be others."* There was a wistful quality to the thought.

*"What aren't you telling me?"

"There are thirty ships on their way, with fertile female passengers. They found out what you're doing and insisted on 'helping with the invasion'."

"Call them back. Immediately! If they're seen, it will be seen as a breaking of the peace and a threat."

"We've tried. They're ignoring us. You must understand; these are females who are reaching the end of their childbearing years and, like you, have been unable to find a viable male. They see this as their only chance."*

Wind chimes groaned, both mentally and physically, waking Peter up. "Are you all right?" he asked, worried at the sound she'd made.

She turned worried green-gold eyes on him. "I must speak to the one you call commander. There are thirty ships coming, all filled with fertile females."

He gaped at her and all his mind could come up with was one of the really awful Harlington-Straker cult classics about invading aliens. If it weren't so serious, he'd have laughed. "I'll call the commander. How soon will they be arriving?"

She communicated to her contact and sighed. "They left ten days after I did."

He frowned, "And your days equal how many of ours?"

"A week?"

She'd been here two weeks already, so that gave them eight weeks to prepare for thirty more ships. "How many women on each ship?"

"Two, three at most." She watched him as he tried to work out the figures. She gingerly requested access to his thoughts and he willingly allowed her in. "Who is 'Foster'?"

"Not someone I'd have ever wanted my sister involved with, but he's willing to bed any female he meets, I think."

"Is he intelligent?"

Peter shrugged. "Average, I'd say. Just a bit self-absorbed, I think. But he likes women. A very great deal."

"But you'd rather someone else." She knew his mind, and smiled when he nodded his agreement.

"I'd only introduce him to someone I really didn't like, I'm afraid."

"Well, I don't know who's coming, so we'll just have to wait and see."

Peter nodded his agreement and abruptly realized that she was lying in his arms and his hands were gently caressing her body. "Sorry." He started to withdraw and she stopped him.

"I like it."

Peter smiled and allowed his hand to return it's soft stroking of her body. "You really are quite beautiful, you know."

"Thank you." She smiled and closed her eyes, the better to feel his hand upon her body. When he tentatively opened his mind to her, as though requesting permission to enter, she gladly welcomed him and they shared thoughts as well as touches as they learned of the differences in their physiology.

His body reacted quite predictably, but he stopped himself and with deep, shuddering breaths, withdrew before they went too far. "I'm sorry."

Knowing his reasons, she smiled, grateful for his patience. "So am I, but you're right. We need to wait until the doctors finish with me, yes?"

Sighing with relief, he nodded. "Yes." He sat up on the edge of the bed and reached out a hand to gently touch her face. "So very young." He shook his head; his mind might accept her age, but his eyes and body found her too much like a child for his full comfort.

She returned his light touch on his cheek, then leaned close and pressed her lips to his, as she'd seen Rachel and Louise do with their mates. His lips were soft and warm, and moved gently against hers, causing strange flutters inside. Feelings she had no name for, because they were so alien. Alien. She wondered, suddenly, if this whole insane idea was even feasible. Feeling his arms around her and his tongue touching her lips, she hoped it was.

Louise opened the door and smiled. She was getting over her problem with the alien girl, but she still needed to discover more about their physiology to determine whether it was possible to interbreed. Looking at Peter Carlin, it certainly looked likely.

"Sorry to disturb you, but I need to have a nice long chat with Wind chimes, Captain." The couple jumped apart and looked guiltily at her. Seeing none of the anger of the day before, Peter stood.

"Yes, Doctor." He turned back to the girl. "May I have lunch with you, later?"

"Of course. I'd like that." They smiled at one another and Peter headed out, glancing back once to smile reassuringly at her again.

Louise shook her head in amusement. "I think he's quite taken with you."

"Does that bother you, still?"

Louise tilted her head, regarding the girl and considering her own feelings. "No, it doesn't. I think I'm getting over myself." She smiled, faintly embarrassed. "And I can guarantee that my premise was correct. Ed and I, well, let's just say that we're closer than we've ever been, and that is a very good feeling."

Wind chimes smiled. "I am glad. Peter, he lets me into his mind, and is learning to enter mine. He's worried about what others will think of us, and he's bothered by my apparent age. But his sleeping thoughts of me were most enlightening."

"Sleeping thoughts? Oh, you mean dream? He dreamt of you?"

"Is that what that is? My people do not think when they sleep. I think he was deciding whether to mate with me as he slept. He dreamed of me as a human, I know, but it was very interesting."

"Yes, that's something I needed to talk to you about. There are some definite differences in our anatomy and I want to make sure you don't harm each other. Now, can you describe how your people prepare and perform the sex act?"

"Yes, oh! First I must tell you that thirty ships with fertile females are coming. They left ten days after I did, in hopes of finding mates." She looked worried. "They are ignoring orders to return."

"Thirty ships? How many on each ship?" Louise was already reaching for the phone to call her husband, when the phone rang. "Dr. Straker."

"What's wrong?" Her husband's voice asked in concern. She was startled and then felt the faint touch of his mind. Instead of speaking, she explored the mental connection and told him what Wind chimes had said. She hung up the phone without speaking further and within a minute, her husband entered the room.

Wind chimes smiled. She still needed to be in physical contact with them to be able to mind-speak, but they seemed able to converse the way her kind did. He looked very angry when he arrived, and she quickly touched his arm and mentally explained what had happened. He scowled and started fuming.

"Please, let me act as a conductor between my people and you. Perhaps those in the coming ships will listen to you."

"You'd better hope they do," Ed snarled. He looked up as a worried Alec entered. "What are you doing here, Alec?"

"You're broadcasting," Alec replied calmly. "I just wanted to check on things. Is there a problem?"

Broadcasting. Hell. "No. Not a problem, yet. What exactly was I broadcasting?"

Alec grinned. "Oh, the usual. Anger, annoyance. So, what's got you so pissed off?" He relaxed in the doorway and folded his arms across his chest.

"He's broadcasting emotions?" Louise asked, surprised. She turned to her husband, "And you called because you sensed that I was agitated." They turned to Alec and Louise continued, "And yesterday morning, you went running to the cafeteria because Rachel was upset?"

Alec shook his head. "No, I ran to the cafeteria because Foster was annoying my lass."

"You knew it was Foster?" Ed asked, seeing where Louise was going.


"So, you and Rachel send and receive complete thoughts without thinking about it?"

Alec thought about it and felt the touch of his wife's mind in his. Catching her concern, he smiled. "It starts off with a touch, a sensitivity to one another's emotions. But Rache and I have refined it from just feeling each other's emotions to actually 'talking'. But I think you're right, it starts off with just the emotion, which acts as the signal, which makes one or the other of us reach out and ask." He shrugged. "Rache said last night that it was like that passage in the Bible, the one about how a man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home and the two shall become one flesh. I think that's what we've become. Two parts of a single whole. If that makes any sense at all."

Louise nodded. "It does, actually. You and Rachel just happen to be closer than most couples ever become, even after decades together."

Alec grinned, pleased, and felt his wife's smile, even though she was in another part of the building. "We are at that."

"You're talking to her now, aren't you?" Ed asked.

"Yes. There's this spot at the back of my mind that's constantly tuned to her. Rather like background music from a radio. If she becomes upset in any way, I know and can turn up the volume, so to speak. She's just always there, and it's wonderful."

Ed and Louise looked at him with just a trace of envy, then looked at each other and you wouldn't have needed telepathy to know they were deciding that they wanted to work for that same closeness. Finally, though, they turned to Wind chimes, who had watched it all with curiosity and just a touch of amusement, coupled with concern for her mission of peace.

"Do you think you can contact them?"

"I am sure I can contact them, but am not certain they will answer."

"They'll answer if you yell at them loud enough, Ed."

Louise snickered. "Maybe Alec had better do the actual 'talking'. You should hover in the background being all angry commander while he plays peacemaker between you?"

"Why?" Ed frowned.

"Because it's a good ploy. They're looking for survival of their species, so they're a bit anxious." Alec couldn't keep the enormous grin from his face. "To tell you the truth, it sounds like the plot of one of Paul Foster's hideous and highly profitable sci-fi pictures." He chuckled. "Can't you just see it? Talk about a bad movie. It's got cult favorite all over it."

Ed gaped at his laughing friend, looked at his wife, who was trying not to giggle, and then at Wind chimes, who just looked confused. "Oh, bloody hell." Then he began to chuckle, himself. "Fine, be that way, then. You can play the friendly one and I'll hover and growl."

"Perfect. I'll play nice, and you can threaten them with total destruction, then." Alec turned to the alien girl. "Did you understand all that?"

"No." She looked up at him, confused, but trusting.

"We want you to contact the incoming ships, I realize that we've got nearly two months before they get here, but we have to make them understand that if they come blazing in, we're going to take it as a threat and act accordingly. The same way we have for the past twenty or so years. Understand?"

"Yes." She smiled up at him, realizing from his smile that he had some kind of idea of how to do this in such a way as to keep her people from dying in a foolish attempt to force themselves on the fertile men of earth.

"Fine, so, you contact them. I'll talk nicely to them, while Ed's ranting and raving in the background, and hopefully, between the two of us, they'll come to understand that they have to have an invitation and that any sudden influx of them is going to be treated as an invasion. So, hopefully, they'll slow down and wait for that invitation."

"They won't want to wait very long, though."

"Just long enough to make sure that their journey isn't a wasted trip. What good would it do them to come if it doesn't work?"

"Oh! But it must!" There was real fear in her eyes.

"Calm down. The tests all come back that our DNA is compatible with yours. There's no reason it won't work, but we want to make sure, first. I'm afraid that you're the test subject," Louise patted the girl on the shoulder, trying to be reassuring.

Wind chimes nodded and took a deep breath. "All right. Let me contact them." She closed her eyes and sent her mind out, searching for the ships. She was almost immediately answered by one of the pilots. She reached out her hands for Ed and Alec, acting as a channel between the opposing forces.

*"If you enter our airspace, we will consider it an attack and will respond accordingly."*

*"We carry fertile females!"*

*"We have plenty of fertile females, and males, here. We have no need of yours."*

Even though they were still millions of miles away, they could sense them slowing their ships as the babble of many minds voiced their concerns. Finally, a single voice came through, acting as spokesperson.

*"Who are you to deny us mates?"*

*"I'm the man designated negotiator. Our negotiations with the representative of your people have not concluded. We are still testing the feasibility of her request. Until such time as those tests are complete and her promise of no new incursions into our system have been completed, you will not be welcome."* He could sense both Ed and Louise sending out their fiercest thoughts. All Louise had to do was think of her loss and she alone could probably send the aliens running.

*"How is it that you are able to communicate with us?"*

*"You only had to ask. Your negotiator learned our means of communication and then taught us yours."*

*"But...she learned it long ago, and it took her a long time to learn your communications techniques. How quickly you have learned ours!"*

*"Yes, well, we don't normally communicate in this fashion except for our mates. It's considered bad manners to speak mind-to-mind with others."* They all felt the consternation caused by his rebuke. Obviously, the aliens had not only thought that their means of communication was the only way intelligent beings spoke, but to discover that their long-time enemies were capable of so easily taking it up, and that they found it an offensive thing... how embarrassing.

*"Forgive us, then. What would you have us do?"*

*"Have you supplies for an extra fifty days?"*


*"Then stop and await our decision. I will contact you at that time."*

*"Wait! How can we be certain?"*

*"You can't. If you don't hear from me in fifty days, as you count them, then you may as well go home, as our races are not compatible enough to procreate."*

There was a buzzing of many voices as the approaching ships discussed their options. Finally, however, the spokesperson returned. *"Very well. Fifty days. We will wait fifty days."*

*"Thank you."* Alec pulled away from Wind chimes and rubbed his temples, hard. "That hurt," he complained. A moment later, he felt his wife's arms snake around his waist and hug him. "Ah, thanks, lass. Much better already." He turned and hugged her in return, gracing her with a quick but tender kiss.

"What was that all about, laddie?"

"He just stopped Wind chimes's friends from coming here en masse to search for husbands," Ed chuckled. He glanced up at his friend. "You probably didn't notice, but the pilots of those craft are very unhappy."

"Oh? Why?"

Wind chimes replied for them, "They are jealous? Because you have fertile males, and they are not." She smiled up at them. "So, now what?"

"Now, you and I are going to have a girl-to-girl talk about some specifics. So, unless you gentlemen wish to discuss the particulars of having sex...." Both men, with stricken looks of embarrassment on their faces, bolted for the door, with Alec dragging his wife after them, as she laughed and followed. Louise chuckled. "Works every time." She turned to the young alien. "Now then, back to what we need to discuss. Your internal musculature is very different from ours, and you haven't certain... hot spots, shall we say? How do your people copulate?"

She had no embarrassment. She readily explained the mechanics for her species. It was quite similar to human intercourse, but with a few very major differences.

"So, you're saying that your internal muscles basically 'milk' the semen from the male, and you store it in your body?"

"Yes. That way, we can decide when the time is right to bear a child and allow our ovum to become fertile at that time."

"How long can you keep the sperm viable? How long does it live?"

She blinked and then shrugged. "For as long as we wish."

"I'm afraid that won't work for human sperm. Too warm, and the sperm die. Too cold, the sperm die. Too old, and the sperm die. They're generally only viable for at most a week outside the male without special care."

"So, I must copulate at the time I wish to become with child?" It was an odd thing to have to consider, it was so far from her kind's way.

"Yes, I'm afraid so. Of course, you'd probably wish that just now, anyway. To see if it's even possible for our two species to interbreed?" She found herself hating to sound so clinical, but felt it was the best way to be, for now.

"Yes." She smiled. "Peter said he was willing." She looked up at Louise, seemingly having forgotten her hatred of just days before. Louise realized that and marveled at her.

"Yes, he has. One thing, though. I suggest you maintain mental contact with him. Your internal muscles may be too powerful for his comfort. Can you control your contractions so you don't hurt him?"

"Yes." She smiled, feeling excitement that she would be permitted to couple with the brother of her friend. They related so well together because they had shared memories of Leila. She found herself enjoying his company in that it was almost like having her friend back.

Louise could see the girl's excitement. Well, there really was no time like the present. She lifted the phone and, after glancing at a list for the number, called Peter Carlin.

He was nervous, of course. He knew perfectly well that they were being observed. Perhaps only the video cameras were watching, but still. The whole idea of having sex while on camera was a bit off-putting. He decided not to think about all that and simply work on getting to know the girl better. At least they'd been given some pseudo-privacy with a room without a huge window to the hallway. Suddenly shy, he smiled at her and took her hand. The moment they touched, their minds connected and words became superfluous. They sat quietly together for a time, just talking and learning more about each other. After a while, Peter eased closer to Wind chimes and lightly touched her cheek. She watched him, curious. When he leaned close and kissed her, she didn't know what to do. Her people didn't kiss, or touch, very much. As one of his hands came up and lightly caressed her breast, she responded by putting her arms around him, as she'd seen Rachel and Louise do when their husbands kissed them.

He moved slowly, keeping his touch light and gentle. After several minutes, he eased his hand beneath her shift, exploring. Taking the hint, she reciprocated, sliding her hands beneath his shirt. She stood to allow him to slip her clothing off. She watched in fascination as he removed his clothes and when he looked at her again, she smiled. He smiled back.

She was glad she'd had the talk with Louise, or she could have badly hurt him; something she'd never have wanted to do. She was careful to stay in control of herself. Her people didn't take pleasure in procreation; it was strictly a necessity. When in physical contact, she could communicate with him in her people's manner, and she was able to feel what he felt, so that when she tightened those muscles designed to draw a male into her, she knew when it became uncomfortable for him. Needing to use those muscles, however, she used them to push against him and provide resistance, which sent a wave of pleasure through him and, to her amazement, herself, as well.

Afterwards, as they slept, bodies and minds entwined, she marveled at the feelings she received from him. There was a tiny hesitancy, however, regarding her and a possible child, regret, hurt, and grief, even though there was, as yet, no child. As they slept, she probed his feelings and learned first-hand of his grief and agony. It left her breathless and dismayed that despite his understanding that any child he fathered would never truly be his, he was still willing. She again wished that she were capable of shedding tears. Instead, she did what she could, holding him close and giving him some of her calmness and hoping to share some of her joy with him at the possibilities. She wished it could be enough.

A week later, Louise realized that she had no means of ascertaining whether or not Wind chimes had become pregnant. The girl said she was, but there were no tests to be certain. Sighing, she approached her husband on the matter, and by extension, his second in command, Alec Freeman.

"So you see, I have no way to monitor her progress or even to safely tell if she's pregnant. What I thought we could do was see if any of the females in their fleet might be doctors, and invite one of them here to help monitor her through her pregnancy."

Ed closed his eyes and pressed his fingers firmly into the sockets, groaning. "Great. Just what we need."

"It makes sense, though, Ed. Besides, it might give those on the ships the hope that it will work and that they can all come down and have the opportunity to save their species." Alec shrugged. "We'll still be in control, and besides, it will give Louise and Schroeder the opportunity to learn about their transplant techniques and anti-rejection capabilities."

Ed scowled at him. Leave it to Alec to come up with an even better reason to allow a second alien on station. Finally, he sighed. "All right. Let's get with Wind chimes and invite one. She'll only be allowed to provide medical information, however. This is not a wholesale invitation for them to come here and try and find husbands!"

"Of course not." Louise smiled, relieved that it had been so simple. She made a mental note to thank Alec, later.

*"Are any of your number doctors?"*

*"Several. Why?"* They were again gathered in the small medical conference room, contacting the alien fleet.

*"We have need of one who understands your physiology, who can help to care for Wind chimes through her pregnancy."* There was an excited mental muttering as they discussed the hope that piece of information caused.

*"I will come."* The mental voice was strident, overpowering the rest, almost demanding in its tone.

*"You are a doctor?"*

*"Yes. How should we approach?"*

*"Go to our moon. There you will transfer to our control and we will bring you to Earth."*

*"Why should I not simply go straight to where you are?"*

*"Because we don't trust you."* Alec's interjection caused a momentary pause in communication, which gained him a glare from Louise. He simply shrugged. "It's the plain truth. They might as well understand that."

"Fine." Louise really wasn't too upset, he was right; it was the plain, simple truth. *"Will you agree to abide by our rules? You are not being allowed to come seeking a mate, but rather to help us to ascertain the feasibility of our species interbreeding."*

*"Of course."* There was something almost haughty in the 'tone', but with no one else offering, or perhaps it would have been daring the woman to speak against her, they accepted her offer.

*"Very well. Our people will meet you on our moon."* Alec made the announcement, while Ed continued his broadcasting of disapproval. They didn't want to give them any ideas that this was a done deal. They needed an alien doctor to help care for the alien girl and help with the possible crossbred offspring. If it was viable, that is.

"Now, we wait." Louise sighed in relief.

"How's Carlin handling it?" Ed asked his wife.

"Surprisingly well. He's a bit depressed, recognizing that if the child survives, it will never be his, but will return to her world with her. She hadn't considered that, and has been talking to me about it. She's worried about him. Which I think is a good sign."

"What are the chances that she'll decide to stay here, with him?" Both Strakers looked at Alec in surprise.

"Stay?" Louise shook her head. "Frankly, the thought never crossed my mind." She looked at her husband. "What do you think?"

"I think that she would have to love him, but from what I've seen, I don't know if they can even understand the emotion. They react to anger with fear and pain, but they don't seem to have the emotions themselves." Ed shrugged. "We'll just have to wait and see." He turned his attention to Alec. "Since you're the best one of us at communicating with them, I'm assigning you the escort duties."

Alec grinned. "I've had help, not to mention incentive. Rache and I are closer than ever, and I thought we were close before." He shivered as his wife's thoughts touched him, making promises for later. "I can't imagine ever being without her, now."

"I know the feeling," Ed mused as he gazed on his wife, who looked up at his thoughts and winked.

"Well, it'll be a week or two before she gets here, so I'm going to set up a room for her. In the meantime, I'm going to encourage Captain Carlin to take Wind Chimes out to do some tourist things."

Ed frowned. "Why?"

His wife looked at him. "She's come a very long way to be locked in a cell, don't you think? Besides, I'm going to assume that exercise is as good for alien pregnancies as it is for human."

"I want them escorted at all times."

"Yes, commander." She shook her head and left, her husband frowning after her.

"Do you think that was asking too much, Alec?"

"Not from SHADO's point of view." He grinned. "Rachel just suggested we have a little dinner party and invite them to join us." He cocked his head at his boss. "Tomorrow night? Give her a view of normal human interaction and living conditions?"

Ed snorted a laugh. "Since when is either of us 'normal?' No, don't say anything. I think it's a great idea. Besides, your wife's one of the best cooks I know." His face blanked in startlement as he received a mental note of thanks from Mrs. Freeman. He colored slightly as Alec guffawed.

"That's my lass. Always on top of things. I'll go extend the invitation."

Straker shook his head in amusement. "Yes, why don't you do that? I can tell the ladies are already discussing the menu."

"Of course they are. Meanwhile...."

"Go on. Go be diplomatic for me."

"Always." With a grin and a wave, he left.

Straker shook his head in wonder and cautiously extended his mental awareness and realized that he could even sense people other than those he was closest to, which now included Wind chimes and Peter Carlin. Focusing, he realized that he could 'hear' the scuttlebutt being bandied about in control and shook his head. Sighing, he stood up. Time to nip that bit of rumor before it grew into a hydra.

He entered control and simply watched them working for a bit. He noticed Ford looked annoyed and realized that he'd already tried quashing the rumors. His lips narrowed in annoyance. "Ladies and gentlemen, I've a little announcement to make." Everyone turned to him, surprised and expectant.

"I understand that you've been gossiping about the young alien girl who's come to negotiate." He smiled inwardly at those who flinched at his knowledge. "Yes, she is in seclusion. No, she's not a monster and she doesn't crave human parts. Yes, it is true that she's a rarity among her species, in that she is fertile, and yes, she's hoping that our two species can interbreed." He let the gasps dissipate before continuing. "No, no one will be coerced into... interacting with aliens. We don't even know if it's possible. However," and here he stabbed each and every one of them with his patented laser glare, "The subject is not open for debate. You will be informed when negotiations are completed and not before. Speculation is strongly discouraged, and any further gossip and rumormongering will result in disciplinary action. Do I make myself clear?" There were a soft chorus of yes, sirs by most of the shift. He nodded, having noted those who had remained silent. "Mr. Ford, I'll leave them in your capable hands." He squeezed Keith's shoulder before he returned to his office, again tuning in on the impressive silence he'd left behind.

*"How the hell did he know what we were talking about, anyway?"* one voice whispered, only to be hushed by another person.

"You heard the man. Let's get back to work. Just because it's been quiet doesn't mean it will stay that way." Keith Ford's voice was gentle, but firm, and Straker nodded. Keith was definitely one of the best shift leaders they had, and he made a note to put that observation on his next appraisal.

Carlin was nervous. It was one thing to have fallen in love with an alien, but something else entirely to be invited to dinner at Colonel Freeman's house, with the commander and his wife as the only other guests. He wasn't surprised in the least when Alec opened the door before they actually set foot on the first step leading to the porch. He'd always thought of Alec as a friendly sort of bloke, generally too gentle for the military, but he was a mean poker player, as he'd learned the two times aboard SkyDiver he'd been fool enough to play against him.

The commander and his wife were already there, and there were wonderful smells coming from somewhere. Wind chimes inhaled and her expression showed her curiosity. "What is that?" she asked shyly. Although these were the humans she knew best, this was her first time out of SHADO, and she rubbernecked like a tourist.

"That's just dinner. It'll be ready in about fifteen minutes. Come in and make yourselves at home. Can I get you anything to drink?" Rachel was her usual friendly self.

Peter thought for a moment and then asked for a soft drink, as he'd be driving, later. Wind chimes had no idea what to ask for, so Rachel brought her some orange juice. She took one sip and her eyes widened in amazement.

"What is this? I've never tasted anything so wonderful, before."

"It's just orange juice, is all," Rachel replied, a bit surprised by her reaction.

"Orange juice. I like this." She took another sip, closing her eyes and savoring the taste. The rest of the evening passed similarly, as she sampled and learned to enjoy earthly foods and drinks. It made it a great deal easier for Peter, as well, as the focus was on her, rather than him. It helped him to feel less uncomfortable, so far out of his element. The evening was surprisingly pleasant, with no distinctions based on rank, although Carlin tended to call his superiors by their titles, rather than their names, but he did call the ladies by their first names, after being told repeatedly. It would take a great deal of time and further interaction before he would ever be able to call the commander or the colonel by their first names. As they were getting ready to leave, the commander drew him aside for a moment.

"Take her home with you."


"To your apartment. It's all right, Peter, take her home and show her how we really live." Straker wasn't sure why Louise had suggested it, but saw no reason not to permit it.

"Yes, sir." He didn't show it, but he was reeling inside. Take her home with him? To his flat? He shivered in anticipation, wondering if she'd like it, there. Of course, that would mean that they wouldn't be under surveillance, for once. He began to smile in anticipation. A few minutes later, they were in his car and on their way.

"I've been given permission to take you home with me. That is, if you want to go, that is."


"To my flat. Where I live, when I'm not on duty."

"I would like to see where you live." She was busy looking out the windows, excited by the mundane sights of driving through London.

He smiled and his foot pressed just a bit harder on the accelerator.

The alien strode through Moonbase like she owned it. She was annoyed that no one was able to communicate with her. Not a single one of these humans was intelligent enough to speak. She had to rely on gestures, and it truly annoyed her. How dare they treat her like this? She was so obviously far superior to them that she had to fight back the urge to strike them.

They escorted her to their primitive ship and they launched, heading for the planet. Seeing it again, only this time through a clear, uncolored substance, she did think the planet was rather nice looking. The blueness of the oceans was quite attractive.

Finally, she was led from the darkened conveyance into a well-lit room. There, waiting to greet her, was a tall, powerfully built male. Her hormones immediately kicked into overdrive. He had the stance and presence she had only ever associated with a fertile and virile male. Her eyes hooded as she looked him over. Yes. He'd do very nicely for her. Even if he wasn't intelligent enough to be able to speak.

Alec could feel the alien doctor's predatory interest. He scowled at her. *"My mate does not share."*

She was startled to find he could speak. *"You can talk! I was beginning to think that all your kind were idiots!"*

Alec's frown deepened. *"Our kind do not normally speak mind-to-mind with anyone other than our mates; it's considered rude and ill-mannered."*

That stopped her in her tracks. *"What?"*

He ignored her and turned to lead the way to the medical center. *"Come along. I'll introduce you to our doctors and they'll explain what will be required."*

She took a couple of quick steps to catch up to him. *"When will you and I join?"*

*"Never. I told you, my mate would not approve, and I made a vow to her, no others."* She was starting to make his skin crawl.

He was so very obviously a prime male, and she wanted a prime male for herself. *"I will fight her for you, then."*

He looked her up and down, appraisingly, and his mouth opened and loud noises came out. At the same time, he sent his feelings of amusement to her via her manner of communication. She became angry. *"Tell me of this 'mate' of yours."*

Alec couldn't help but picture his wife, smiling tenderly at the thoughts.

*"She is as sterile as most of my people! Why do you waste your seed on such a one as her?"*

*"I have wasted a great deal of 'seed' over the years. I have grown children, and grandchildren as well. My wife and I don't need to be trying to raise babies at this time in our lives. We are more than satisfied with each other."* What part of 'no' didn't this predatory female understand?

*"You waste yourself, then. Join with me."* She spoke with command and was highly annoyed when he ignored her and moved away, leaving her to catch up.

Wind chimes was very upset when she returned to her room. The doctor had been rude not only to Alec, Dr. Straker, and herself, but to Peter, as well. She'd called him a 'nice little boy'; and asked her why she hadn't chosen a more virile male, like Alec. She couldn't even understand the humans' names, merely giving them descriptions. 'nice little boy' was her Peter; 'strong, virile male - MINE' for Alec, and 'cold male - but virile as well' for the commander. She wouldn't even think of the descriptions used for Dr. Straker and Rachel. She shuddered in dismay. The doctor had been haphazard, unfeeling and uncaring in her examination, and she still felt the discomfort of the probing. Thankfully, Dr. Straker had been there to learn, and her touch was so much more gentle than the haughty female from her home.

She looked up when the door opened and smiled tiredly at Peter.

"Are you all right? Did she hurt you?" he asked in concern.

She sighed. "She did not hurt me, but it was unpleasant." She leaned into his embrace, welcoming his warmth and care. "She was just uncaring. Dr. Straker was much more kind."

"Are you all right?"

She couldn't help but smile. "I am pregnant." She looked coyly up at him. "There are three offspring."

He pulled away, his eyes wide and his jaw slack. "Three?"

She nodded, smiling. "We can determine the number of infants we produce." She frowned. "Can't you do that?"

He shivered and hugged her, hard. "No. Though there are some families where multiple births are common. Three." He shivered again. "Can you tell if they are boys or girls, yet?"

She snuggled more closely against him. "No. Not until they are born." She felt his wonder and excitement, tempered by that chronic touch of melancholy that was always present, knowing that he'd have no part in the raising of his children. It gave her an odd aching feeling deep inside, not quite a pain, but not quite anything else, either.

"Come out with me, tonight?"

"Is it permitted?" She looked at him in surprise. They'd allowed her to go places and see bits of their world, and she truly enjoyed his flat, but she'd thought that they'd have wanted to keep a closer eye on her, now that the doctor had come.

"I already asked, and the commander agreed." He smiled at her. "I thought we'd go out to eat? I know this lovely little Italian restaurant not far from here."

She cocked her head. "Italian?"

"You'll love it." One thing he knew, she thoroughly enjoyed the myriad flavors and tastes of earthly foods. She hadn't had Italian food, before, and he was looking forward to introducing her to it.

"I would like very much to go out with you."

"Come on, then, let's get you dressed for it, okay?" Rachel had taken her shopping for clothes, and she now had a small but very nice selection of human apparel for when she went outside the confines of SHADO. In minutes, she was ready to go.

"I don't think they'll let that doctor out of confinement. She's a bit, um, abrasive."

Wind chimes shivered. "She's not nice."

Peter's jaw clenched, "So, she did hurt you." His arms encircled her and held her snugly against his chest.

"Not hurt, not really, just... she just didn't care." In physical contact, she was unable to keep her memories to herself, for some reason. The humans' ability to garner her deepest, most private thoughts astounded her. "Please, can we go now?" She wanted to go home with him, to have him hold her and comfort her. The idea of leaving him behind when she returned to her world with their children was becoming less and less something to look forward to. She couldn't help wondering if this was anything like the 'love' emotion humans had?

"All right. Let's get out of here." He didn't always follow her thoughts, even when they were touching, as he was geared more towards emotions, and she to ideas, but he could sense her unrest. Maybe after a good meal and a night of privacy and cuddling, she'd feel better. With a final hug, and holding hands, they left.

"I'm telling you, Ed, that woman's as much a Salty as Dorothy ever was. Worse, I think."

"Alec, she made a pass at you."

"Worse than that. She offered to fight Rachel for my 'services'." He shuddered in distaste. "Her mental touch is...well, slimier than Jackson, if that's possible."

Straker shivered, despite his amusement at his friend's discomfort. "Well, she's locked safely away for the night, so you don't have to worry about her. Are you and Rachel staying here tonight, or going home?"

Alec looked at his watch and groaned. "I've got a meeting in the morning with some studio folks, and it's already after nine. I think we'll just stay here." He grinned. "Certainly won't be the first time. You going to stay or go?"

Ed grinned tiredly. "Stay as well. At my age, I need all the sleep I can get."

Alec laughed. "Then I should need even more, but for some reason, lately, I don't. Providing my lovely lass and I are together." He winked and a hint of the old lecherous Alec was momentarily visible.

"Go on, get out of here. I'll see you in the morning."

"Yes, sir!" With a jaunty wave, he spun on his heel and got out the door before Ed could change his mind. Ed just shook his head in amusement. Alec was like a teen-ager in love for the first time. He frowned as he realized just how true that was. He realized that his friend was acting a lot younger than his seventy years would indicate. Then again, Alec's contact with Wind chimes had done wonders for his arthritis. Shaking his head, he logged off his computer and headed down to medical and his wife.

"Fly with me, laddie," Rachel purred, pulling his pajama top from his shoulders and dropping it on the floor. Chuckling softly, her husband stepped out of his pajama bottoms, as her hands skimmed them down his hips to the floor. As she stood, he was there, pulling her gown off and then following her to bed.

Once in each other's arms, minds open and sharing every touch, every thought, every emotion, their passion rose as they made love. Unable to tell where one left off and the other began, their relationship bonded more strongly every time they were together. Climbing to the pinnacle of fulfillment and taking flight together, their souls flew, joined as tightly as their bodies; spiraling out of control to land softly back to earth. Panting after their exertions, Alec drew his beloved close to his body, their minds still swirling in the aftershocks of their passion.

He felt a touch that wasn't his wife.

Stiffening, he lifted his head to look around. They were, as usual, alone. But there was something, a feeling niggling away at the edges of his consciousness. Closing his eyes to concentrate, he felt it...or rather, her. The realization of what had happened sent him surging to his feet with a roar of rage.

"Alec? Alec, what's wrong?" Rachel, who had been more asleep than awake, sat up in fear, looking at her gentle, considerate lover like he was possessed.

"How dare she? Bloody hell! That...." Unable to find the words, he bellowed again in rage.

"Alec? What is it?"

He turned to her, stricken. "Can't you feel her? Can't you feel her slimy touch in your mind? Do you realize what she's done?" He was shaking with rage, horror, and anguish. Rachel, worried, now, cocked her head, closing her eyes to feel.... There! Her jaw dropped in shock.

"Oh, laddie," she moaned, sliding out of bed to hold him to her. He was shaking. Pulling away from her, he grabbed his pajamas and pulled them quickly on. His feet bare, and his rage almost in control, he exited their room without a look or a thought to his wife.

He was going to kill the bitch.

He blew into the secure medlab room, ready to commit murder, or at least mayhem. She had the audacity to be waiting for him, naked and spread out on top of the bed. With an inarticulate roar, he grabbed her by the throat and flung her against the wall. Still enraged, he bent down and lifted her, again by the throat, holding her against the wall. *"How dare you! How dare you! I should kill you. I could very easily crush the life from you."*

She couldn't breathe, or think, and the powerful emotions the human male was bombarding her with were beyond what she'd ever experienced. Struggling weakly, she tried to push him away, but his fury was too much for her. She felt a soft mental touch and suddenly, he let her go and turned away.

Rachel's gentle touch stopped him from killing the alien, but did nothing to ease his rage. He picked up the mattress from the bed and flung it against the wall, bellowing. Moments later, the Strakers burst in; Ed had his pistol at the ready. Seeing the tableau before him, he frowned, confused. Alec was loudly demolishing the furniture,

"What the devil is going on, here?" Ed asked in total confusion. He noticed the alien doctor cowering in the corner, hands to her throat. "Alec! Alec!" Freeman didn't even seem to notice him as he continued to destroy the furniture. Ed glanced worriedly at his wife, who was hugging Rachel. "Rachel, what happened?" He dodged the nightstand as it flew past him and into the wall, splintering. With a wary eye on his friend, he drew their wives out of harms way and into the hallway. Something told him that whatever was wrong; it had everything to do with the alien in that room.

"Oh, Lord, look at him." Rachel was crying and watching her husband rage on. She looked at the Strakers and shook her head. "We were in bed, and after...well, as we were getting ready to sleep, Alec realized that that...that witch in there, had been mentally linked with us the entire time." She returned her attention to her husband. "He's totally lost control." She shivered.

"Unfortunately, he hasn't." At the puzzlement on both women's faces he elaborated. "If he'd lost control, that alien would be dead. Instead, he's taking it out on the furniture."

There was sudden silence in the room, and all eyes turned to Alec Freeman, sweat-drenched and panting from his exertions. "Don't you dare. Don't you dare attempt to communicate with me," he snarled. He turned and saw the crowd in the hallway and wilted. Meeting Ed's eyes, he softly spoke. "I'll pay for the damages, of course." He looked past his wife and friends to Wind chimes and Peter Carlin. "It's not your fault, child." He then looked at Louise, who frowned at him worriedly. He suddenly looked every one of his seventy years, and then some. "She can't stay here. She sneaks into your mind and steals from you." He shuddered in the residual horror. "How the hell do I wash her out of my mind?" he asked plaintively. There was no answer, so he pushed through the group and headed back to his quarters, seemingly having forgotten his wife. When he had gone, Louise again put her arms around Rachel, trying to comfort her.

"Wind chimes, how do we keep her from invading anyone else's mind?" Ed asked, tightly.

Wind chimes, mortified and horrorstricken by what the other female of her kind had done, sighed. "I do not know if it is possible to stop her, unless...." She bit down on her lip, hard. "Perhaps there is a way. Your music? We do not have music on our world. There is a type that Peter likes that makes it hard for me to think or communicate? It is loud and non-rhythmical? If you play that for her, perhaps she will not be able to concentrate enough to probe where she has not been invited?" In her embarrassment, she never once looked at the other alien; she didn't realize that she was identifying more with the humans than her own kind.

"Atonal noise, I can set that up and have it piped in." Louise looked at the stricken alien in the corner and shook her head. "I can only imagine what Alec is going through." But she could, really. She threw her disapproval like a javelin at the woman, who gasped as though struck, raising fear-filled eyes to her. *"How dare you impose yourself in such a manner? I was given to understand that you were intelligent beings, not lust-filled animals. We need to re-think this entire proposal. If you are an example, I prefer war."*

The female wailed inarticulately as Louise closed and locked the door. If she wanted a soft bed to sleep on, she could do her own cleanup of the room. She looked at Peter and Wind chimes. "Go on back to bed. No, Wind chimes, I didn't mean what I told that bitch. I just felt like venting my own spleen." She shook her head, her arms still around the sobbing Rachel's shoulders. "Rache, go back to Alec. He really needs you, now." Peter gently led the alien girl away, never speaking a word aloud.

Rachel looked at her and heaved a great, shuddering sigh. "I think this must be what it's like to be raped," she said softly, "but like Alec said, how do you wash that out of your mind?" Shaking her head, she shuffled down the hall, following her husband.


"Let me turn on some noise." She turned on an oscilloscope in the lab, set it to audio, and then adjusted it so that it modulated randomly. "There, that should work." She turned on the hidden speakers in the alien's room and adjusted the volume. She wasn't so cruel as to turn it too loud for the woman to be unable to sleep. They watched as the alien female slowly came out of her huddled position in the corner of the room. She pressed her hands to her ears and shook her head. She was obviously a bit muddled, mentally. Louise dimmed the lights and the alien crept over to where the mattress lay on the floor and crawled onto it. Gathering up the covers that had miraculously remained on it, she huddled beneath them, trembling.

"If that were a human, I think I'd be feeling sorry for her."

"Consequences of her actions. I should have foreseen this, though. How she kept insisting that Alec was for her. Poor Alec."

"Is there anything we can do?"

She shrugged noncommittally. "Listen; talk to him. Right now, though, he needs Rachel. She was just as violated as he was, but it's different for women than it is for men. He's hurting and angry, and he's letting the anger out, which is good. I admire his restraint. I don't think I'd have been able to resist killing that bitch." She shook her head and sighed. "I hope he lets her close; but he's afraid, along with all the anger. He realizes what he could have done, and he doesn't want to hurt her."

"In the morning, I want to contact their fleet. It's time we let them know that we're not the ones in need of this peace treaty, and that anyone else with the attitude she displayed can go home right now. I won't allow another one like her on my planet!" He was fuming. Angry with himself as much as he was with the alien. He somehow felt that he should have foreseen this possibility.

"Ed, we made a mistake. An error in judgment. We expected her to be like Wind chimes, to be polite and have good manners. What we have to determine now is, which is actually representative of the aliens as a whole?"

"If they're more like her, they can just go back to where they came from and we'll keep fighting until they're all dead." He glared at his wife. It was a formidable glare, but totally wasted on her, as she agreed with him.

"In the meantime, we should try and get some more sleep. We'll continue dealing with this in the morning." She stepped close to him and wrapped her arms around his body, pressing her cheek against his chest. "Take me back to bed and hold me, please?"

He understood. The alien could just as easily have chosen them to 'join'. He shivered at the thought, realizing that he and his lover weren't as sensitive as Alec was. "Yes, my love. That's an excellent idea." Not that he truly expected to get a great deal of sleep, mind you. But they would be together, comforting and reassuring one another. He just hoped that Alec and Rachel would be able to do the same.

She found him in the shower, standing there, shaking. The water was as hot as it could be, but fortunately, not hot enough to scald. She slowly stripped, watching him through the glass, hoping to see him move, but he just stood there with the hot water sluicing down his body, seemingly oblivious to anything. With a sigh, she opened the door and entered behind him. He didn't react when she slipped her arms around him, so she knew he had been aware of her.

She just stood there, holding him, for a time. Then, she took soap and washrag and bathed them both. He moved as she directed him, never saying a word. There was a cold, dark wall between them, mentally, and she ached for the touch of his mind in hers; but now was not the time to push him, she knew. Turning off the taps, she gently pulled him from the shower stall and toweled first him, and then herself. Finally dry, she tugged at his hand and led him back to bed. He balked and turned a bleak-eyed gaze to her. Understanding, she stripped and remade the bed. Finally, she got him between the fresh, clean, sheets.

He still hadn't spoken a word.

Once in bed, he turned away from her. For the first time, ever, he didn't offer her a hug or a kiss, simply his back. She ached for him. Needing his touch, she spooned up close behind him, sliding her arm around his waist and pressing her cheek between his shoulder blades. He was like a stone, cold, unyielding.

She couldn't stand it.

"Laddie? I'm sorry." There was deep regret in her voice. She felt him stir.

"You've nothing to be sorry about, lass," he whispered.

"You've never turned your back to me, before, laddie."

His breath caught for a moment, and then he exhaled heavily. Turning onto his back, he lifted his arm to gather her to him. "Sorry, lass." He still had his mental guards up, though, and she could only feel his body, not his mind.

"Don't lock me out, laddie. Please, not me."

He sighed. "I don't want to lass, but...." He shuddered. "I can still feel her slimy touch inside my mind. What am I going to do? How can I get rid of it?"

"Oh, laddie." She held him tightly. She thought about what she could do to help him. She'd only recognized the alien's touch after he drew her attention to it, so she didn't feel quite as violated as he obviously did. She shifted, sitting up for a moment. "Come here, laddie." She drew his arms around her waist and pulled his head to lie between her breasts, holding him securely against her as they lay together. She ran her fingers through his hair, massaging his scalp the way he liked best, and felt him slowly relax against her.

"My laddie."

"Am I? Am I, still?"

"Always and forever, laddie. No one else's. She may have tried to steal you from me, but she couldn't, don't you see? You're mine." Her voice began gentle, hardening possessively as she progressed. "You'll never be another's, laddie. You're mine, just as I'm yours."

"Promise me, lass." His voice trembled like his body.

"I promise. Always and forever. That witch may have stowed away and hitched a ride on our flight, laddie, but she'll never understand. She's got neither the heart nor the soul to even begin to understand what we share."

"She made me feel dirty, with her slimy, lustful thoughts." He shivered and she tightened her grip on him.

"She's the dirty one, laddie. We were just showing each other how much we're in love, is all. She's the voyeur; she's the sick one. Not us, not you, laddie. Never you."

"Oh, lass."

"Your lass, laddie. Always and forever, no matter what tries to drive us apart."

"My lass. Always and forever." His arms tightened around her waist, and he lightly kissed her breast, and then pressed his cheek against her breastbone, so as to hear her heart beating.

"Always and forever," she agreed, closing her eyes and relishing his body, warm and solid beside her.

They drifted into sleep; but it wasn't particularly restful, as Alec still maintained the walls his fear had built that now, and for the first time, divided them.

He was all alone. He hadn't realized how quickly he'd become accustomed to being able to mentally shift and feel his wife's presence like a warm, comforting security blanket. He was cold, and it was dark where he was, and there was a monster, waiting for him to move. He was afraid to call out for help, afraid that if he did, the monster would get him. As he shivered and tried to press himself tighter into his hiding place, he realized it wasn't truly dark, his eyes were adjusting to the dimness, and he could see. He was in a cave, he realized, and if he was careful not to try and look directly at anything, he found he could actually make out the figure of the monster lying across from him. Panicked, he lay very still, terrified that it might notice him. After a time, when the monster didn't move, he shifted his uncomfortable position, moving very slowly. The creature didn't make a sound, other than the heavy breathing he could hear. As he shifted, his foot slipped on the sandy floor of the cave, and made a loud noise. He froze, his heart pounding, but the monster didn't move. Letting out his held breath in a silent sigh, he finished shifting, watching the monster peripherally. It still didn't move, and he became bolder. More comfortable, now, he started wondering where he was, and more importantly, where his Rachel might be. Had the monster harmed her? Where was she?

His soft moans and restless movement woke her. She held him tightly, murmuring soft reassurances to bring him from his nightmare, but it was as though he couldn't hear her. Closing her eyes, she attempted the mental connection they had been forging, but to no avail. There was a heavy barricade across her usual entrance path. Stubbornly, she tried to search her way around it, finally finding a tiny chink. She pressed at the opening, hardly an opening at all, but she pressed, and found herself in darkness. For a moment, she was frightened, but had come to recognize his mental 'home'. It was different now, though. It was dark, and cold, and silent, except for heavy, labored breathing. Searching, she found a cavern. On one side, was an amorphous, evil thing, and on the other, the side farthest from her, was her husband.

"Alec," she softly called, and saw him start with terror, looking at the slumbering monster. "I'm coming, laddie." She softly crept around the edge of the cave, keeping one eye on the monster, and the other on her husband. She was pleased when he stood up, even seeing the fear he was so obviously feeling. He began creeping towards her, as well, and when they met, he crushed her to him.

"Lass," he whispered. "You shouldn't have come here, it's not safe."

"Oh, laddie, I'd go into hell itself for you." She held him tightly. "Come, it can't do anything to us, now."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Listen to it, laddie, it's having to struggle for every breath. There's nothing to fear, it's dying."

"How can you be so certain?"

She smiled up at him and hugged him, hard. "I just know, laddie. She'll not hurt us again."

He looked at her, "How do you know there won't be others?"

She gave him a stern look. "I don't. We never do, laddie, but together, there is nothing we can't handle."

"It's filthy and slimy, and I don't want to touch it."

"You won't have to; come with me, now, my love."

His gaze was searching. "I'm afraid, lass." There was no one in the universe he'd ever been so open and honest with, but she was his wife, his love, and his life. If he wasn't honest with her, then he was lost for certain.

"I know. It will be all right. I promise." She held her hand out to him, and he took it without hesitation, following her around the edge of the cave and back out the way she had come in. As they escaped the cave where the monster slept, she saw a wooden support, and she looked closely at it. Smiling, she drew him to it and with his help, pulled it free.

"Run!" Grabbing his hand, she headed for the tiny slit in the stone where she'd pried her way into the labyrinth, as the ground shook and the roof of the cave began to collapse on the monster, burying it. She pushed firmly at the crevice and in a moment, they were outside in the fresh air and sunshine.

He awoke with a gasp, sitting bolt upright in bed, staring about him in a panic. "Rachel? Lass?"

"Here, laddie. I'm right here, love." She sighed in relief as he settled into her arms.

"Bad dream," he murmured, taking comfort in her closeness.

"I know, laddie. I went in after you. Promise me something?"

"Anything within my power, lass, you know that."

"Don't ever shut me out. Our connection is important to me, laddie, and I need it as a part of us, now. I know it's not been very long, but it's been long enough that I can't abide not feeling you in that corner of my mind. It's very cold and bleak without you, laddie."

"I know, lass. I'm sorry, but I didn't know what else to do to keep her out." He shuddered at the memory of finding the lascivious alien presence as they returned from their flight. "I'd never willingly shut you out, lass."

"I know, laddie. We'll just have to work on communicating a bit better, hmmm?" There was just the faintest hint of humor in her suggestion.

"Oh, lass." He held her tightly, and cautiously opened his mind to her. Her return to his conscious awareness was like a cup of her very special cocoa, both stimulating and soothing at once. *"My lass."*

*"Yours, laddie. Only yours, always and forever."* She didn't cling to him when he pulled away a bit to look at her with concern.

"I can't say that any more, lass. She took that from me." There was anguish in his voice and tears in his eyes.

"You can, and you will! She took; it was not given, not freely, she stole from us both, laddie. There's no shame, no dishonor in it. Not for us." She could see and feel his doubt. "Laddie, look at me." His eyes met hers, full of doubt and dismay. "We're still the same together, lad. She can't take our love away from us, it's ours to give and share, it can never be taken. She stole some physical sensations is all. She couldn't share our joy, our love, never that. All she could do was vicariously try to experience and understand. But we already know from Wind chimes that they don't have emotions like ours. They can't love, and therefore can't be loved. She can't change our love for each other, laddie, I won't let her."

"My lass?"

"Yours, laddie. Always and forever. My laddie."

"Yours, lass. Always and forever, and beyond."

The addition made her breath catch. "And beyond," she agreed.

His hands gently touched her, hesitant and uncertain, but her response was as it always was. She was in his arms, and his heart, and his mind, just where she belonged. But for the first time in his life, as much as he wanted to reaffirm their love, he was physically unable. He would have tried to hide it, but their mental link, as weakened as it was, didn't allow it.

"Just touch me, laddie. Yes, like that. My laddie." She arched into his touch, her reaction easing, just a bit, his consternation over his failure. *"Not a failure, laddie. Just a minor setback, I've no doubt of that."*


*"I swear it to you. And if it lasts a bit...I'll go and kill the witch myself."* She hugged him tightly and enveloped his troubled mind in her love, holding just as tightly. He chuckled, but there was fear, rather than amusement in his heart.

"It will be all right, laddie. I promise."

"I love you, Rachel."

"My laddie."

"Always and forever, and beyond."

"And beyond." Physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted, they slept, tightly held in one another's arms.

Louise checked on the second alien female before breakfast. She was lying huddled beneath the covers on the mattress, which was still on the floor. The room looked like a tornado had touched down. The metal nightstand was in crumpled pieces. The paint on the walls was scuffed, and the bed frame was probably not salvageable. Seeing it, fully awake and aware, was even more impressive than having watched Alec do it the night before.

"How is she?"

"Sleeping, it would appear." She looked at her husband's grim expression and sighed. "Any sign of them yet? It's almost nine."

He shook his head. "No, but I'm not going to disturb them. They've had enough disruptions for one day." He glanced over his shoulder as Wind chimes diffidently joined them.

"I am sorry for what she did," she was almost pleading.

"It was hardly your fault. She was told repeatedly that Alec wasn't destined for her. It's her fault that this happened."

"I have never heard of such rudeness among my people. I...I asked for a 'meeting' with the others who are waiting. I did not explain why, only that we must talk, that it is vital for our negotiations. They are waiting for you whenever you wish. I could not help it, but they know there is trouble, just not what kind." She looked at them, waiting for their righteous wrath to fall on her.

"Thank you. We'll wait for Alec and Rachel." Ed spoke kindly to the girl, able to easily separate her actions from the other alien's.

Wind chimes looked like she wanted to say something more, but then simply nodded. "Do you want me to speak to this one?"

"No. Let her sleep."

"I've turned off the sound, so she's probably really asleep, now. If she contacts you, let us know, please?"

"Yes. What she did is so awful...I don't have the words or the thoughts for it. I am so sorry."

Louise gently touched her cheek. "It is not your fault." She smiled. "As I've finally learned, it's not right to blame someone for something someone else has done." She glanced at her husband, who was smiling at her. Despite the furor the night before, they'd slept well, and awakened with plenty of time to perform their own, private little bonding ceremony. Something that their new mental connection could only enhance.

"There may be others like her, though."

"No one, and I mean no one, will be allowed here without rigorous analysis. I won't have another incident like last night's. She knew the restrictions and agreed to our terms before she came. She more than broke the truce, she committed a personal act of war on my people." Straker was 'the commander' again. Angry and cold.

"I will help. She hurt Alec." She'd come to equate Alec with 'the gentle one', in her thoughts. He was always gentle, it had seemed. At least, until the previous night when he demonstrated his strength, power, and anger. He'd broadcast his emotions, and they had battered her easily as much as Louise's had, previously. She'd have hated to have been in full contact with him. Enraged, he was fully capable of killing one of her kind. He very nearly had.

"Thank you." Ed looked up to see a haggard looking Alec and a worried Rachel approaching.

"I want her off my planet," Alec grumbled. His shoulders were slumped and he wasn't making eye contact. Ed stiffened worriedly and sent an urgent call for help to his wife, who was right beside him.

"I agree. We were just about to call a meeting with the rest of them. If there are any more like her, they can just go home now." Alec nodded wearily, as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. Ed placed his hand on Alec's back and gently urged him towards the conference room. "Come on, let's get this over with." He noticed that Alec didn't even look in on the alien and worried.

"Alec, if you just want to stand by, I'll do the talking, this time."

Alec took a deep breath and looked at his wife. They didn't normally hold hands in meetings, but this time, they were. "All right," he quietly agreed. He didn't notice the worry on his friends' faces, simply closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Let's get on with it."

Wind chimes sent out her thoughts to the fleet of ufoes sitting out in space awaiting the outcome of the peace negotiations. She took Ed's hand and he could hear the consternation from the waiting females. He could sense different 'tones' of 'voice' and focused on those most like their prisoner.

*"If there are any more of you like that 'doctor' you sent us, you can just go home, now. I want that stinking piece of excrement removed from my planet immediately, or I swear, I'll kill her, myself."*

*"What? Why? How dare you? You can't!"* The myriad voices all clamored at once. He picked out some of the more strident, but was unable to keep track of all the different people. He was quickly frustrated.

*"Enough!"* There was silence. *"Your doctor was supposed to come here to tend to Wind chimes, who is not only negotiating for peace, but has become the test subject to determine if her request to help your species to survive is a viable process. We had need of one of your doctors for this purpose. Your doctor was not intended to become a test subject, nor were any of our males interested in breeding her. This peace and survival is dependant on our good graces, not your force. Your 'doctor' violated the agreement and the trust we placed in you. She assaulted one of my males."* There was an abrupt ripple of thought through the aliens, wondering what had happened.

*She invaded his mind when he was with his mate. She vilely and heinously partook of their joining via a mental link of which he was not aware. She accosted him, demanding he breed her when he met her to escort her to our medical labs. She was inconsiderate and unkind to Wind chimes, your negotiator. She has committed war crimes against my people, and either you remove her, or we will execute her for her crimes.

"You were informed that to us, mental communication except between bonded mates was considered poor manners. Her actions were criminal. You have 48 hours to remove her and find a suitable replacement."*

*"Who are you to tell us what to do?"* The 'voice' was easily as strident as their prisoner's.

"I'm the man in charge. And I'm a fertile male. I will not allow any of you on my planet without assurances that nothing like this will again occur. If it does, we'll simply destroy you. The decision is yours, but I suggest you think about it long and hard before you make your decision. Are there any other doctors in your number?"

*"Yes. We have several. Choose."*

Ed was bombarded with four or five sets of thoughts at once, overwhelming his burgeoning telepathic abilities. He couldn't separate the different 'voices', and suddenly had a blinding headache. With a soft groan, he sank into his chair.

*"Stop that!"* Alec stood, his anger broadcasting like a solar flare. The aliens were immediately silent again. *"As much as I mistrust all of you, I'll not stand idly by and allow you to force us into anything. Which of you are doctors?"* He easily sorted through them, and quickly chose. *"The one called Sun in the clouds will come. You will take the other one away."*

*"Where is she? Why does she not respond when we speak to her?"* a voice asked, one similar in tone to their prisoner's, but worried.

*"To prevent her forcing her way into anyone else's mind, we locked her up and played sounds to keep her from being able to communicate in your fashion. She's sleeping, I understand. I don't know if we damaged her, or not; frankly, I don't care. She and those like her, who are unable or unwilling to abide by our rules, should go home now, before they do something that will foolishly resume our war. We have time on our side. We have more people than you have, more warriors; and we have one thing you do not have. We are a fertile people, so if necessary, our children, and our children's, children's children will still be able to fight. Can you say the same?"* There was a long silence, but with a murmuring in the background as the aliens communicated amongst themselves.

*"We will abide by your demands."*

*"If you don't, there will be no peace and you will have no hope of survival."*


Alec sighed and sagged into his chair, rubbing his temples against the ache. "I hate that."

"Thanks. I couldn't keep track of them all." Ed mirrored Alec's position as both men fought off migraines. The gentle touches of their wives hands and minds eased some of the ache. Alec sighed and shook his head.

"Bless you, lass." He smiled when she kissed his cheek. Turning his head, he caught her lips. With a contented sigh, he opened his mind to her. A moment later, he frowned. "What the devil?" He abruptly stood and strode out of the conference room, catching the others flat-footed and confused. Striding purposefully, he stopped outside the alien's demolished quarters. As the others joined him, he shook his head. "She's freezing?"


"She's broadcasting that she's cold; freezing to death." He frowned and looked at Wind chimes. "Are you cold?"

"A little. My world is much warmer than yours."

Louise frowned. "How much warmer?"

"Our air is at least as warm as your water for bathing. Often warmer. Why?"

Louise frowned, considering; gnawing on her lower lip as she concentrated. "What if...." She shook her head and then shrugged, "But then again, why not?" She turned to the alien girl. "I want two of your youngest males who are with the females. I've some tests to run. Have them again land on our moon. Send two ships, one to take the witch back, the other to bring the doctor and two males. They can leave their ship on the moon; we won't touch it."

Ed scowled, wondering what she was up to. "Louise?"

"Not now, love. I've got an idea!" With that, she hurried into the demolished room and roused the shivering alien.

Ed, Alec and Rachel exchanged puzzled looks, and then Ed shook his head. "You heard the lady, Wind chimes. Two ships."

"Yes, Commander." Wondering what had excited the human doctor, she sent out the new instructions.

While they waited for the arrival of the new group of aliens, Louise ran several tests on both females, but had yet to draw any concrete conclusions. All she would tell anyone was that she had theories, but no proof as yet. With any luck, by the time Wind chimes had delivered, she would have some answers.

They'd just have to wait.

It had been quiet for three months, with only the two ufoes making contact. The arrival of the two machines, one of which took aboard the second alien to have arrived, and immediately took off as soon as they'd taken aboard their passenger. The other ship stayed. Five people came off, the two-man crew, and three females. With their helmets off, the three of them looked very young, and in the case of the two males, frightened. Peter Carlin had escorted the returning female, and would be escorting the newcomers back to SHADO HQ.

*"Since there are five of you, and you cannot communicate verbally, as is our fashion, I suggest you keep close to me. No one will harm you, but it is not advisable to move suddenly."*

*"Are you the commander?"* a musical 'voice' asked, rather shyly. Peter looked at the young female and shook his head.

*"I am Peter Carlin. I have been assigned to escort you. Come with me, please. We'll be departing, soon."* The five aliens quietly followed, their eyes darting about and flinching slightly at some of the looks of hatred they received, although, it was equally possible that they were picking up some of the hatred from the Moonbase crew.

The flight to Earth was uneventful. Once they arrived at SHADO HQ, Carlin led them down to the medlab, where each of them was given a different room, but they were able to see one another through the large Plexiglas windows. *"Doctor Straker will be here, soon. She'll explain what is required. Which of you is Sun in the clouds?"* The young female with the musical 'voice' stepped forward.

*"Good. If you'll come with me, your patient awaits."* He escorted her away from the others and to the examination room where Wind chimes waited anxiously. He left them to talk and for the doctor to determine his mate's condition and progression of her pregnancy. He waited outside, leaning against the wall, eyes closed, wondering what was happening, worried about her, and still grieving over his coming loss. He was such a fool. Not for sleeping with the girl, that he didn't regret at all, but falling in love with her like this was a stupid thing to have done.

But she was a sweet, innocent soul, and she'd healed so much of his damaged heart that he hadn't been able to resist her. The thought of her leaving Earth to return to her home caused a terrible, soul-deep ache. But he would let them go, no matter his own pain and grief that action would cause.

"Tired, Captain?"

"No, sir. Just thinking." He jerked his head to indicate the examination room. "New doctor has arrived. She's a bit shy, but much nicer than the last one."

Straker nodded. "Good. How do the others look?"

"Well, there are two other females, with two young male crew. The guys are afraid and wondering what we'll do to them."

Straker chuckled. "I'm a bit curious, myself. Ah, here comes my wife, finally. Let me know if anything untoward happens."

"Yes, sir."

Thankfully, his lass still loved him, even if he wasn't able to fly with her. She'd hold him close every night and tell him that it didn't matter, and since she also insisted on linking with him mentally, he knew it to be true. It didn't really help, though. He'd been building up the courage to talk to Louise about it for nearly the entire two weeks since the 'incident.' Finally, as they were awaiting the arrival of the new group of aliens, he forced himself into her office.

"Hullo, Alec. How are you, today?" She'd noticed he seemed constantly depressed, and knew it was all due to the incident with the alien doctor, but she was gone, now, and would not be able to cause any more trouble.

He sat down and crossed his left leg over his right knee. He looked uncomfortable, but she waited patiently for him.

"I've got a problem."

"How can I help?" She placed her arms on her desk, hands clasped, and leaned forward.

"Uh, I've got...it's that. Oh, hell." He raised bleak eyes to her, and his face was flushed with embarrassment. "I haven't been able to be intimate with my lass since that night."

Her breath caught for just a moment. That was a serious problem for the ever-sensual Alec. "I see." She tilted her head slightly to one side, "Have you ever had this problem before?"

"Never. I know it's common for most men to have trouble once in a while, but every time we try to get intimate, it's like that witch is back in my head, slavering over me." He shuddered, closing his eyes against the memory.

She watched him worriedly. "No intimacy at all?"

He shrugged and crossed his arms, defensively. "I can touch her, but I can't... I can't get it up at all." He blushed. "She says she doesn't mind, and we still have some of that mental link, so I know she's telling the truth, but there's something missing and I don't know what to do about it."

She jumped on that. "Missing? In what way?"

He sighed, trying to find the words, "It's like she's still there, watching, waiting, ready to pounce." He shivered and his arms tightened around himself for protection, his hands fisting. "I know she's gone, and that you used sound to keep her from being able to do it again, but every time my wife and I are alone together, it's like she's still there, waiting. It's driving me to distraction." He looked at her, his eyes pleading for her to help.

His timing was terrible, she thought, wishing he'd come to her sooner. The other aliens were arriving and she had tests to run and the new doctor to talk to. But Alec was a friend as well as a colleague. She'd take as much time as necessary for him. "First of all, stop trying so hard." She saw his expression and shrugged. "Oftentimes, that's all that it takes. Try a romantic dinner, candlelight, wine; you know, seduction." She saw his doubt and realized that he'd probably already tried all the 'normal' mood enhancers. "Let me think about it for a bit; see if I can't come up with something." There were drugs, but this wasn't a physical problem, rather a mental and emotional one. Artificial 'enhancement' was not the way to deal with this, and she knew it, as did Alec. What he wanted was to be healed from the alien's mental and emotional rape; and she wasn't sure how to go about that. She decided she needed to talk to Rachel and get her point of view. Alec was being reactive, rather than pro-active, which she could understand. "How good is your mental link with Rachel?"

He shrugged. "I have to work at it. I tend to 'build walls', she says, and I guess it's true. I'm constantly on guard, searching for any touch of someone's mind trying to link to me." He shivered again, causing Louise more concern. "Rachel has to remind me constantly not to block her, as well."

He'd lost his ability to trust. She could fully understand his fear. But he needed that connection with his wife, she well knew from her own experience. There had been a number of surprising benefits from allowing Wind chimes to first link with them in her people's communication style. She'd been running tests on herself and had made some interesting discoveries; things that were quite exciting, medically speaking. But looking at Alec now, she could see how the alien's incursion into his mind was hurting him. He looked old and tired - a far cry from how she normally pictured him. There was a hint of fear, as well, and that she couldn't tolerate. She was almost sorry they'd let the culprit return to her world.

"She's right. You need to keep her close. Don't you find her link to be comforting?"

He sighed and nodded. "Very, when I can drop my defenses long enough to let her in. We go through it every night. She talks her way into my mind, and then we sleep. It's exhausting, though. I know it's hurting her, not being 'there' like I was before, but...I can't seem to separate her mental touch from that alien's."

"Maybe you and Rachel need to re-bond with Wind chimes as mediator?"

He shook his head, shivering again. "Just the thought makes me ill." His anguish radiated from him, broadcasting his hurt and dismay unconsciously. He stood up. "If you can think of anything, let me know? I know the new aliens should be here by now, and I've kept you long enough."

She stood and came from behind her desk, stopping him with a touch. "Let me at least give you a hug?" she offered. His melancholy smile and nod moved her to him, and she wrapped her arms around him, holding him tightly for a moment. She felt his cheek press against the top of her head and knew that his need was rather desperate. She held him until he shifted, and then she let him go. "Before you go home this evening, come by for a massage. Bring Rachel with you, and I'll teach her some of what she needs to know."

He gave her a half-smile and a grateful nod. "I shall. Thanks." She watched him leave. His shoulders were still slumped, and his steps almost dragged. She ached for him. She felt the touch of her husband's mind, questioning what was wrong, and that she was late for their visitors. She sent a quick 'on my way' back to him and turned the opposite direction from that which Alec had gone.

*"She is carrying three!"* The alien doctor sounded thrilled. *"All are viable and should deliver normally in thirty to thirty-five days."* She was excited, that Wind chimes should have conceived so easily with the human males boded so very well for them, if only the 'other' hadn't angered them so with her ill manners. She looked hopefully at the human doctor, who bared her teeth at her; something that Wind chimes had said indicated they were either pleased or amused. She bared her teeth in return, hoping she wasn't committing an error in good manners.

*"That is good news. She said she had decided on three. Will there be any problems with delivery? I know that our kind often have problems when there are more than one."*

*"They are three separate conceptions. Each is enclosed separately? They do not interfere with one another."* She bared her teeth, hoping to convey that the multiple pregnancy was normal for them. That their males had been fertile enough to inseminate three ova was a thrilling prospect.

Louise, in mental contact with the alien doctor realized that she'd made an erroneous assumption. *"Her three babies have only one father. We do not join with multiple males; it is against most of our beliefs and customs. Most of our kind mate for life."*

The alien frowned, considering. *"But... what will happen to your male when she returns home with their offspring?"*

Louise was encouraged by this woman's concern. *"He has accepted it. He will hurt at the loss, but knew that she would return to your home world, whether or not interbreeding between our species was possible."* She shrugged. *"Peter Carlin has had many losses in his life. This, however, is the only one I know of where he had a choice. He chose to give of himself freely. We will guard him carefully so that he knows he is not alone."* She didn't want to use the term 'abandoned', although that was exactly what it was. She knew the pain that was in store for him, and could only promise to be there to counsel and offer him comfort.

Sun in the clouds nodded. *"She knows this, and is torn. She has come to care for her Peter, very much."* She looked at Louise, trying to decide how to ask the question. *"Do your kind form permanent, lasting bonds?"*

*"Yes. It's linked to one of our emotions, love. Peter loves Wind chimes, but knows that she must return to her world to prove that her theory was correct."* She wondered if the alien could understand.

She nodded. *"We do not have this emotion, I don't think, but we do care for our mates and offspring. Perhaps it is similar to your emotion?"*

*"Perhaps. Tell me of your planet. Wind chimes said it was much warmer than ours?"*

*"Yes. It is very cold, here. Why do you ask?"*

*"There is a problem our males sometimes have because of too much heat. It is mostly connected with our penchant for sitting in warm, foaming water for relaxation. It seems that for many males, the excessive heat causes their production of sperm to decrease or cease. I am curious if that might not be the problem your males have. That their infertility is linked to the temperature?"*

*"But our female population also is mostly infertile."*

*"That could be caused by the lack of genetic variety, as I'm sure you realize. However, if we can discover if heat is at all related to your male infertility, perhaps it is also related to the female?"*

The alien doctor nodded. *"Perhaps so. How will you test this hypothesis?"*

*"With your help. I wish you to teach me the tests you use for your males, then I'll isolate them at different temperatures and we'll wait and see what happens. With only two of them, I should keep one as a control, maintaining his environment at your world's 'normal', but again, with only two subjects, I'd also like to try two different lower temperatures, thus perhaps finding a range of temperatures that may make them viable."*

*"If you are right, those two young males will become in high demand, I think."*

Louise laughed and agreed with her. With the explanations made and understood, they interviewed the two young alien males and ran their initial tests. Then their cells had the temperatures adjusted, one at human normal, the other at considerably warmer, but still greatly cooler than their planet's norm.

It had been a very long day. Sun in the clouds was as nice as Wind chimes was. Her attitude was what they had expected after meeting the first alien, and under questioning, had learned that most of their people were somewhat more like Wind chimes and Sun in the clouds than like the other alien doctor. To learn that the despised female was called Sweet on the tongue had been an oxymoron of the highest degree.

As much as she'd like to pack it in and take her husband home for a nice meal and some cuddling, she knew that she'd need to stay on-station. Besides, she still had to deal with the Freemans' problem.

"Thanks for coming in, Rachel. You knew that Alec was in this morning, looking for some help?"

"I know. He's so distant, he's afraid of someone somehow sneaking into his mind again." She shivered, much the same way her husband had. "I never knew she was there, until he pointed out her presence. When I went back to our quarters, he was in the shower, just standing there, with straight hot water pouring down on him, not moving. He wanted to wash her out of his mind, but how can we do that?"

Louise nodded. "It's much the same when a woman is raped, she'll stand in the shower and scrub herself raw, trying to remove the feel of her attacker. You've both been violated, but there's no way to 'wash' it away. We have to find a way to help him, since he's obviously the one most affected."

"If he hadn't said anything, I'd never have known she was there. He's so much more sensitive than I am when it comes to the telepathy."

Louise frowned. "Yes, he is, isn't he? Before, he had no trouble communicating with the aliens even without physical contact." She searched her mind for an answer. "You need to re-establish your connection. There are some apparent physiological changes that go with that; I'd like to draw some blood for analysis, if I may. But more important, I need you and Alec back to what you were before that bitch came here."

Rachel shrugged. "Take all the samples you want. I just need to know how to reconnect with Alec. He's almost afraid to even touch me, upset that he can't perform." She leaned forward earnestly. "I couldn't care less if we ever had sex. It's never really been about that; it's about love. I want my lover back, in my arms, and in my mind. How do I get him back?"

"Remember you telling me about the time you told him about your first flight?"


"Maybe you need to go back to that? Remind him of what you've had almost from the beginning. That connection has been severed, as well. Take him soaring with you, using words. Then, you might want to try seducing him. You're rather passive in that department, aren't you?"

"Passive? I don't think so. I take a very active role."

Louise smiled. Despite the fact that Rachel was considerably older than she was, she had a lot more experience. "But you don't usually initiate and take control of your love-making. You're not the aggressor in it. You're a most willing and active participant, but not the one taking charge. I want you to seduce him, the way he seduced you on your wedding night...well, the first time you bedded after your wedding. Take control, take it slowly, but you be the aggressor. If he complains that he can't, you tell him you don't care, that you just want to touch him."

Rachel frowned, considering the idea. A slow smile grew on her face. "By the time he was done, I was flying." She nodded. "I'll try it." She met her friend's eyes. "How soon?"

"I'd suggest soon, but probably not immediately. I think you'll know when the time is right. He's dealing with the alien men for me, right now, reassuring them that we mean them no harm." Seeing Rachel's surprise, she shrugged. "He's still my best choice for contact with them. Despite what's happened, he's still got the strongest telepathic abilities, and is able to handle the stress so much better than anyone else. I know it bothers him, but I don't really have a lot of choices. Ed's too hard, and I'm not nearly gentle enough, either." She smiled. "Do you know what Wind chimes calls him, and you, for that matter?"

Rachel shrugged. "No. What?"

"You're 'the gentle one and his mate.' She feels safe with both of you, despite that night. For myself, I'd have killed the bitch.

"He was afraid he would damage negotiations with them."

Louise sighed. "I know. By the way, he's due in here in a bit. I promised him a massage, and to show you how to hit all his buttons." She grinned. "Of course, I didn't say that specifically, but that's what I want to do. That may be all you need. Although it's also possible that it will simply put him to sleep."

"That would be good, too. He hasn't been sleeping well, and if he's having bad dreams, I can't quite call them nightmares, then I don't sleep well, either. I want to reconnect the way we did after Wind chimes first connected us. I miss him, feeling his presence constantly in the background, almost close enough to touch."

"Well, let's get the samples while we're waiting for him, and we'll go on from there."

Alec was exhausted. The alien boys, for they were little more than that, were terrified of what they had planned for them. To discover they only wished to observe and run some unintrusive tests on them eased their fear only slightly. When Alec explained that they were testing a hypothesis about what caused their infertility, they were confused. When he explained the nature of the hypothesis, they became excited and willing participants.

Now, he just wanted to go home, but he might be needed if any of the aliens had problems through the night. He hadn't sensed anything like that witch had been from them, but he was still on his guard. With a groan, he remembered Louise's promise of a massage. Even though he was tied up in knots, he wasn't really in the mood. Of course, what he really wanted was to be with his lass, the way they had before even Wind chimes had contacted them. Although he missed that part of their lives, he knew that if he were honest with himself, he missed the connection that Wind chimes had helped them forge. There was a tiny spot in the back of his mind that was locked away and he couldn't reach, the spot where he had felt Rachel. Now, there was a void there, instead.

Reluctantly, he made his way to Louise's office. Entering, he was surprised and pleased to find his wife waiting for him as well. He smiled gratefully upon seeing her and kissed her as tenderly as he always did. Despite his current difficulties, they still had that, the ability to touch each other and even with all the problems, their love was undimmed.

"It's been a long day, lass."

"My poor laddie. Louise said for me to get you down to your knickers and get you stretched out on the table." She insisted on helping him, and once he was down to his briefs, she grinned and ran her hands up his chest to his shoulders. Sliding her arms around his neck to pull him down for a kiss, she sighed, loving the feel of him against her. "Give us a kiss, then, laddie."

He readily complied with the request and gave her a deep, lingering kiss. Hearing someone come in, he reluctantly broke the contact and looked up to see Louise smiling at him.

"Ready folks?" At Alec's nod, she pointed to her massage table. "Face down, please." He got on the table and stretched out, his face pressed into the opening to allow the subject to keep their spine straight while receiving treatment.

"Now, then. Rachel, come up here and I'll show you how to do this." She began by climbing onto the table and straddling Alec's hips. Unlike her husband, who even now (and knowing what was coming) would stiffen, Alec remained relaxed. Starting at the waistband of his briefs, she leaned into her hands and ran them firmly up his spine, splayed her fingers out as she reached his shoulders, rubbed across the shoulder blades and then back down his back to his waist. "You want firm, even pressure."

"What's that do?"

"It's a gentle stretch that makes the muscles relax. See here? In this area at the base of his neck? See how the muscles are all tight? Here's how you release them." She demonstrated by kneading the area like bread dough, only more gently. "See how the muscles are relaxing and that hump is going down?"

"Umm-hmmm." Rachel felt a momentary pang of jealousy. She wanted it to be her body sitting on his behind, and her hands touching him; but she knew she needed to learn how to do this properly.

Louise didn't need telepathy to know what Rachel was feeling. She stroked up and down his back a few more times, and then kneaded his shoulders and upper arms. Then she climbed down from her perch and motioned Rachel to take her place. Louise positioned Rachel's hands and showed her how hard and where to press.

Knowing it was his lass touching him, Alec let out a soft moan of pleasure. She was so warm, and her hands so nice. Just the knowledge was enough to make his body relax.

In moments, he was asleep.

"Well, now you know how to get him to sleep," Louise whispered.

"Yes." She carefully stretched out along Alec's back, grinning at the feel of his body beneath hers. "I've never done this before. It feels odd, lying on him like this."

"I know, but it's a feeling of power, as well. Don't try that when he's upset, it could throw him into a panic."

"I'll probably not do this again, it's just that here and now it's something I wanted to do. He's so warm."

"He's sleeping peacefully. Do you want to wake him, or wait for him to wake up on his own?"

"How long will he sleep?"

Louise shrugged. "No telling. You mentioned that he hasn't been sleeping well, of late. Let's let him rest for a bit, and then we'll wake him up. Are you going home, or staying on station?"

"Staying. In case he's needed." She smiled. "Dedicated, that's my laddie."

Louise grinned back at her. "Two of a kind our boys are. I'm staying for the same reason, and like you, Ed will stay with me."

"I won't give him up. He's mine and no other's." She gently slid from her spot stretched out across his back to the floor. Pressing her cheek against the back of his head, she sighed. "Let me in, laddie. It's cold and lonely without you in my mind."

Louise sighed and with a gentle squeeze to Rachel's shoulder, left them.

"Come on, laddie. Wakey-wakey." She gently stroked his shoulder, slowly soothing him to wakefulness. For just a moment, there was a flash of their old intimacy as his mind sought hers. She welcomed him gladly, only to feel that same numbing ache when he realized and withdrew. "Please, laddie, don't go," she whispered, pressing her cheek against his shoulder. She could sense his struggle; wanting the connection with her, and fearing that it left him too vulnerable at the same time. He managed to hold on to the connection, but just barely. Taking a deep breath, he pushed himself up from his prone position.

"How long did I sleep?"

"An hour. I've gotten us some dinner. Come on, let's go to our quarters."

"All right." He pulled on his trousers and undershirt, but didn't bother with anything else. Carrying his shoes and remaining clothing, he followed her from the exam room to their quarters down the hall. She'd obviously done something special for someone, as the soup was almost as good as hers. She knew him too well, he decided as he realized that he wasn't very hungry. He was grateful for her; that she understood him better than he did. They were relatively silent through their meal, but he knew that she was pleased that he managed to empty his bowl. He realized that everything had been off for him since that night the alien invaded their minds. The thought of her, as usual, made him shiver.

"Come to bed, laddie. It's been a long day."

He'd never dreaded going to bed with her, before. With a sigh, he undressed and slid beneath the covers. He welcomed her into his arms as she slid in beside him. She snuggled close to him, resting her head on his shoulder, with her arm extended across his chest. "I could try to rub your back for you, if you think it would help?"

Alec smiled. "Not necessary, lass. I'm more than tired enough, and now that my belly's full, I should soon be asleep with no worries."

"All right, then." She kissed him gently and settled down beside him. No worries, indeed! She'd worry until they were back on track; and she was determined to get them back into the state in which they belonged.

He awoke alone. The empty spot in the bed was cold, indicating she'd been gone a while. "Rachel?" he called softly, still more asleep than awake. "Lass?" There was no answer. Frowning, he pushed the covers back and got up. She wasn't in the bathroom, either. Worriedly, he wondered where she might have gone. The cold of her spot in their bed seeped into his heart and for just a moment, he wondered if she'd left, unable to deal with his 'problem'. He shook his head in vehement denial. He knew that wasn't true. She had to be somewhere. He noticed her slippers and robe were gone. Sighing, he pulled on his robe and shoved his feet into his slippers and went out in search of her.

The corridor was empty, of course. He pondered, where would he go at... he glanced at his watch and winced, 0328. A thought occurred to him. If he didn't keep locking her out of his mind, it would be easy to just.... He closed his eyes and concentrated, struggling to make that connection. There! He turned right and made his way to the shared kitchen, to find her sitting at the table, gazing morosely into a cup of nearly cold tea.

"Lass?" She glanced up at him and smiled.

"What's wrong, lass?" He pulled out the chair opposite her and sat down, placing a hand over hers.

"You used telepathy to find me?"

"Yes. I was in quite a state, waking up to you not there; but I remembered to use it."

"I miss having you in my mind, lad; feeling you there with me all the time. Sharing my thoughts with you and you with me. That warm, comfortable feeling of your presence. I miss you, laddie."

He sighed, lowering his face into one hand. "I'm sorry, lass. I miss it, too, but I can't seem to bring myself to opening my mind so far."

"Are you afraid me me, laddie?" She tried to keep the pain from her voice, but knew she hadn't by the way he started, his head lifting and his eyes widening in shock.

"Never!" But he was, he realized, and she knew it. "What am I to do, lass?"

"I don't know, but whatever we do, it's the both of us." She stood up and rinsed out her cup in the sink. Turning back to him, she smiled and extended her hands to him. He took them and she pulled him up. "We're in this together, laddie, no matter what. 'For better or for worse' is what we promised each other, and this is just one of those 'worse' bits, is all." Smiling at him, she reached up to pull him down for a kiss and molded her body against his as his arms encircled her and they held each other tightly. "My laddie."

"Still yours, lass."

"Always and forever, and beyond."

"Forever and beyond." They kissed again and then, hand in hand, returned to their room and their interrupted sleep.

As they settled in one another's arms, Rachel shivered slightly as she felt a tentative, uncertain mental touch. Recognizing it as her Alec, she welcomed the contact, gently drawing him into her mind to partake of her love. Wordlessly, he allowed her to envelope his mind in much the same way his body enclosed hers within his embrace as they slept.

For the first time since 'the incident,' they awoke in mental contact. As Rachel awoke, she mentally checked that place in her mind reserved for her husband and was thrilled to find it occupied. She gingerly nudged at the connection, waking him. As his body stirred and tightened its hold on her, the mental link shifted and with great trepidation became aware once again.

*"My laddie."*

"Yours, lass," he murmured aloud, kissing her tenderly. His connection fluttered like a baby bird begging for its mother to feed it. When her mind opened to him with joyous welcome, he sighed and the mental link solidified.

"Yes." She kissed him soundly and held him close for a time before breaking the kiss in order to breathe and stretch. "Come on, laddie. I'm starving."

"Shower with me, lass?" He knew that he still had 'that' problem, but that didn't mean he wasn't interested in her. The tenuous mental connection seemed to strengthen with every touch, every thought exchanged.

She grinned. "I'd love to." With a giggle, she slid out of bed, with him right behind her.

They went up to the studio cafeteria for breakfast. For the first time in what seemed like forever, Alec had a decent appetite. This particular morning, however, he was even smiling, sometimes. He kept touching her through their mental link, reassuring himself it was still there and real. She found it amusing and couldn't help smiling and mentally 'hugging' him with every touch.

He might have been embarrassed but for her obvious joy at their renewed connection.

"I need to be sure I can tell your mental touch from anyone else's, lass."

"Oh, laddie. You'll always know when it's me. I'm the one who can fly with you." She projected an image of the Morane Saulnier A-1 flying loops, and he burst into laughter.

"Oh, lass. Perfect." The spot in his mind reserved for and occupied by the link to his wife had become a looping airplane. He tested the link several times and it embedded itself with the picture of the airplane they'd been flying when he asked her to marry him and she'd said yes. With each touch, the picture became more solid and permanent. He sighed, relieved that no one would be able to access his mind without alerting him to their presence.

They finished breakfast in verbal silence, but in full mental communication. There was still a hesitancy; an uncertainty in him, but after the previous weeks of almost no connection at all, it was wonderful

"How long before we'll have any idea on the temperature test?" Ed was sitting on the corner of his wife's desk, watching her as she went over her tests.

She looked up and smiled. "For humans, it takes three to five months for the change to become truly apparent." She shrugged. "For aliens? Who knows? If there's any change at all, I'll be encouraged."

Ed nodded. "What about the other three females? You know as well as I do that they're hoping to be allowed to breed." He shuddered. "That's such a cold term, like we're all animals, or something. How do you intend to handle them, and if Wind chimes delivers successfully, how are we going to help them? They can't speak and don't seem inclined to even try to learn human speech. I'm not about to advertise for mates for them like I would a bitch in heat."

Louise sighed and leaned back in her chair. With a mischievous little smile, she lifted her bare feet to his lap. Unconsciously, he began to massage them. If she'd been Hearth Cat, she'd have purred. "I was thinking AI, artificial insemination. That way, no onus on the men, no trauma for anyone involved."

Ed's eyebrows went up in surprise. "I like it. I like it. Brilliant, my love." He smiled at her and ran the nail of his index finger up the arch of her foot, laughing when she jerked away from him and only his quick actions kept her from toppling over in her chair. Pinning her in her seat, he loomed over her, still grinning.

Recovering from her surprise at his actions, she reached up and pulled his face down to hers for a kiss. "You rotten little brat," she teased, kissing him soundly. He sank to his knees between hers, his arms going tightly around her body and kissed her with all the passion he kept so tightly leashed, most of the time. His hands had gotten beneath her skirt and her blouse, when the delicate clearing of a throat shocked them apart. Ed lurched to his feet and spun around, keeping himself between his wife and whomever had interrupted them.

"Oughtn't you be doing that behind a locked door?" Alec smirked at them.

Ed sighed dramatically and glanced at his blushing bride and knew that his own face was at least as pink as hers, if not more. "I suppose so, but this early in the day, I wasn't expecting company." He cast a reproachful glance on his friend and supposed subordinate.

Alec chuckled. "Yes, well, that's as may be, but the alien lads have been asking for blankets. I think you've lowered their ambient temperature too quickly. They're both shivering like grass in a gale."

"Oh?" Louise frowned in concern. "Of course, their planet's 'normal' temperature is about a hundred and ten to a hundred and twenty, Fahrenheit, so you may be right. No need to give them hypothermia. I'll raise the room temps to eighty and ninety-five." She smiled up at him, then looked puzzled. "You've spoken to them this morning?"

Alec shrugged. "They were politely broadcasting, looking for someone who could hear them."

Ed caught the implications. "You can pick up thoughts again?"

"Broadcast ones, yes. Can't you?"

"Sometimes, but not usually." He turned to Louise. "Why is he so much more aware of them than any of the rest of us?"

Louise looked at both men and shook her head. "Because he's more sensitive than you or I are, obviously." She shrugged. "I've no way to quantify his telepathic strength, but he's able to sense them much better than any of us, including Wind chimes, whose normal means of communication is telepathy."

Alec frowned in concern. "What are you saying, then?"

"You're a sensitive man. One more aware of others' feelings than most. Which would go hand-in-hand with your people-oriented personality. You've always been a 'people person'. You probably have a natural gift in that area that is beyond what most people have. I shouldn't worry about it."

Ed frowned. "Except that it makes him more vulnerable to certain things like that alien bitch. Sweet on the tongue, my Aunt Fanny."

Alec shifted uncomfortably. They were hitting a little too close to home, at the moment, but he felt that they might have something, there. "So, how do I defend against them? Rache and I are just now starting to reconnect to each other." He gave a meaningful look to Louise, who tensed slightly and started listening more closely. "First time since, since that night we woke up in each other's head." He smiled shyly. "It felt good."

Ed, who had been in constant mental contact with his own wife since their connecting to Wind chimes to prove the theory that her telepathic abilities were, if not transferable, then teachable, smiled. He'd known that something had been wrong with Alec since the night the alien doctor had infiltrated his friends' minds and unwelcomely shared their lovemaking. He hid a shiver at the thought of some voyeur watching him and his wife together from inside his mind. He'd have been mightily upset, too. Thinking about it that way, making it personal, he wondered what besides Alec's mental connection to his wife had changed? He knew he still 'spoke' to the aliens when he had to, but that it was a lot harder for him, now. He couldn't imagine what it must be like for him, to allow all those alien strangers access to his thoughts, even if only briefly. How long would it be before there came another one like Sweet on the tongue? His attention returned to the conversation.

"...going to take time, is all. Have you spoken to the females at all?"

"No, and I'd rather not, if you don't mind?"

"Not at all. It's perfectly understandable for you not to want any more contact with them than absolutely necessary." Louise stood up and had to squeeze between her husband and her filing cabinet to get out from behind her desk. "In the meantime, I'll go adjust some thermostats." With a smile, she left the two men alone.

"Alec? Is everything all right between you and Rachel?"

Alec sighed. "We're coping. She's managing better than I am, I'm afraid."

"Would you prefer that Carlin or I took over with the aliens? I know you're having problems dealing with them."

"Not them, so much. With their ability to sneak into my mind and sit there without my knowing it." He shook his head as though trying to dislodge the thought and memory of the woman that had violated him. He could think that, now. She'd violated him. It might have been mentally, but it was a violation. As much a violation as what had been done to Louise when the aliens had taken her husband and left her to die. "Did you and Louise ever have any trouble due to what the aliens did to her?" he asked softly.

Ed frowned, wondering where that particular question had come from. "Not really. She was so concerned with helping me that it didn't ever really come up. Oh, we talked about it, and she cried, but it never stood in the way of our relationship. Why?"

Alec looked at his friend closely. "Is that why she beat on you that day right after Wind Chimes came?"

Ed's breath caught in his throat. The man was certainly astute about people. Good thing he hadn't been a psychiatrist, he thought. "She'd never really dealt with it all." He glanced at his friend and, seeing his concern, smiled reassuringly. "She's dealing with it as best she can. We do talk about it a lot more. She's made friends with Wind chimes, which helps. Besides, Wind chimes gave us the ability to communicate and connect like you and Rachel. It helps; that connection, that link. We're so much more aware of each other, now." He grinned. "And our sex life, well, it was good, before, but now...." He flushed with embarrassment, as well as pleasure. He missed Alec's catch of breath completely.

"It's amazing, isn't it? Feeling what your lass is feeling and knowing she's feeling what you feel?" he asked softly.

Ed looked at his friend and nodded. "I can't imagine ever being without that connection again." He sighed, remembering just a few minutes earlier when they'd been groping one another. "Well, I have reports to read. Don't you have something upstairs to deal with, today?"

Alec groaned. "Don't remind me. Foster's new film makes its debut this weekend. I think I'll be out of town. Care to go to the premier yourself, for a change?"

Ed chuckled. "Hardly. RHIP, Colonel. And I've gotten better at delegating, over the years."

"Only when it involves being out in public. Regular Howard Hughes, you are, to hear the tabloids tell it."

"Ah, but that aura of mystique is what makes me good. Let me know if Foster causes any problems."

"I doubt he'll try. I keep a grapefruit spoon in my pencil cup to remind him."

Ed stopped for a moment, confused; his comprehension left him roaring with laughter as he shook his head at his friend. "Whatever works, Colonel, whatever works!"

Alec smiled as he watched his friend head for his office and the reports of nothing happening. He sighed, remembering those early 'flights' with his bride and wondered if he'd ever again be able to indulge in such sport. With a final, regretful sigh, he left the medlab and headed upstairs to his studio duties.

"Mr. Freeman?" Paul Foster was always polite to the point of diffidence when it came to dealing with anyone named 'Freeman', these days. Alec missed the brash young man who'd bulled his way into SHADO by sheer determination. Unfortunately, circumstances had never brought him to the limit of his abilities; he'd stagnated and had eventually lost everything but his ability to make money with terrible, hokey, little films.

Despite being a good fifteen years his junior, Paul Foster hadn't aged well, particularly in the past half a dozen years since a car accident had stolen his memory (at least temporarily - made permanent by SHADO's little amnesia drugs) and he stopped keeping himself fit. Although he was slightly shorter than Alec, he now outweighed him by a good bit, and his attempts at maintaining a youthful appearance had left him sadly far less attractive than he would have without the expensive measures. Alec Freeman, despite having never been what anyone would call 'handsome', had aged far better, his generally happy disposition serving him in good stead. Women on the lot seeing the two of them, would focus on the older Alec as the more interesting of the two. He still wasn't handsome, but he held his age better.

Attitude is, after all, everything.

"Paul, come in, man. Take a seat. So, ready for the big night?"

"Yes, yes, I am. Looking forward to it. Will Mr. Straker be attending?" he asked, hopefully.

"You know how he is about these things. He loves being able to delegate all the public displays, I'm afraid. Sometimes makes me wonder why he ever got into such a public business if he doesn't like the publicity!" He chuckled to take the sting of Straker's usual rejection away.

Foster sighed. "I know. But these films do so well for the studio, don't they?"

Alec sobered. "Yes, Paul. They do extremely well." His smile turned gentle, as though he was talking to one of his or Ed's grandchildren. "You've always had a way of turning really terrible scripts into moneymakers, lad. This one will be no different."

"Thank you, Mr. Freeman." His smile was genuine. He was very careful to never look at Alec Freeman's pencil cup after the first time he'd seen a grapefruit spoon in it. Knowing it was there always reminded him of the day a few months earlier when the man had hoisted him into the air, one-handed, and then flung him against a wall. He couldn't remember ever being so frightened in his life, except for every time he had to get aboard any kind of aircraft. He hated that, knowing he'd once been one of the world's best test pilots. Still, his job kept him in food, shelter, and booze; not to mention his latest passion in illicit recreational substances; and it also served to keep his bed filled with willing, nubile young things.

"Have you your next project lined up, yet?"

"I was thinking of a script I've been working on, of my own." He shrugged, uncertainly. "It's the usual drivel, I'm afraid. Alien invasion crap, but the fans love them."

"Yes, they do. What's the premise of this one?" So, Foster was writing a script, was he?

"Aliens from a dying planet find the Earth, and are enough like us that to look at them, you can't tell them from humans."

Alec's heart skipped a beat. "Haven't you already done that one?"

He leaned forward in his chair. "Not like this. The invading aliens are female."

Alec frowned. "Sounds more like some cheap porn flick."

"No, no. It's a love story. This alien girl falls in love with a handsome young soldier and after all the females have managed to get pregnant, she decides to stay behind with her young man. She's told that she'll die if she doesn't go back, but she doesn't care. From there, it goes into a comedy, with her trying to learn to fit in on Earth. What do you think?"

I think I wish Wind chimes would decide to do that. "Well, it is a bit different, I'll admit. You aren't known for your comedies, however, Paul. Are you sure you can pull it off?" Comedy was much more difficult to do well than drama or camp.

"I'd like to try."

Alec regarded his former military colleague. Slowly, decision made, he nodded. "All right. Are you going to produce it yourself?" It was an enormous risk, and they both knew it. A so-so director of cult films trying to stretch beyond his niche was a highly unlikely scenario, as they were well aware. But Foster's lifestyle didn't leave a great deal for investments or paying for his own productions.

Foster looked away. "I haven't the funds to produce it myself." Meaning he was hoping the studio would pay for it.

"Who were you thinking of using for the cast?" One thing Foster's films had been very good at was helping actors and actresses transition from the realm of pornography to mainstream. He was fairly certain that one of his latest little starlets was the reason for the current project. They so often were.

"Actually, I was thinking complete unknowns."

Alec nodded. It was a good way to keep the costs down. Standard guild fees. "Have you anyone specifically in mind for any of the roles?" Surely his latest love interest was slated for the starring role of the amorous alien.

"I honestly don't have anyone at all in mind. The script's nearly finished, though, if you'd like to see it? P'raps you'll think of someone suitable?"

Ah, there it was. Alec was known to be careful with a penny, let alone a pound. He nodded. "I'm willing to take a look at it; although I'm surprised you haven't any casting ideas." Maybe Foster's well was running dry?

"Thanks. I'll drop it off with your secretary this afternoon, then?"

"That'll be fine, Paul. If that's all?"

"Yes, it is, thanks." Foster stood. He never offered to shake hands with Freeman, any more. "I'll be seeing you at the premier tomorrow, then?"

"Yes, I suppose you will." It made him ache to see Foster's promise wasted on the crappy films he made. The man drank too much, and he suspected he was using other, less legal things, as well. He sighed silently, wishing things could have been different, somehow. He stood, as well. "Tomorrow night, then."

Foster smiled and nodded, then frowned up at Alec.

Alec noticed and asked, "Something wrong?"

"Have you stopped dying your hair, or something? New hair conditioner, perhaps?"

Alec shrugged. "Nothing new, why?"

"Well, you've dark roots coming in." He stopped. That didn't make any sense. Why would anyone in their right mind dye their hair grey?

Alec shook his head. "What?"

"You've dark roots showing. Are you taking some new medication?"

"No, actually, I've stopped taking some." He self-consciously ran his hand through his hair and realized that there were a lot of little, tiny hairs coming in. He'd never worn a rug, like Paul did, feeling that hair didn't make him any more attractive, he'd often joked about getting girls with his charm, never his looks, so his thinning hair had been left alone, with just a good haircut to add a bit of volume and height. But he could feel hair stubble. A lot of it, from new hair coming in. And it was dark? Or at least darker? What in the world was happening to him? He looked into the envious gaze of Paul Foster and shrugged. "No idea. Maybe the low-fat diet is doing something?" He wasn't on any kind of diet, but Paul didn't need to know that.

"Well, it looks good. Makes you look younger." Younger than me!

Alec shrugged again. "I'll have to have my doctor check it out." Just as soon as you leave! "I'll see you at the premier tomorrow night, and I'm looking forward to that script you mentioned."

"Right. Tomorrow night, then." With a pasted-on smile, Paul Foster left.

As soon as he was gone, Alec headed for his private restroom and took a good, long, hard look at the top of his head. Sure enough, there was a lot of new hair coming in, and it was all the auburn of his youth. "Bloody hell, what's happening to me?"

He sat nervously awaiting Dr. Schroeder's return with his test results. He'd called in a panic and the good doctor had told him to come in immediately. He'd taken one look and ordered up urgent tests of everything he could think of. Now, he sat and speculated on what could be happening to him. He felt fine! In fact, since his arthritis disappeared after the first mental touch from Wind chimes, he'd pretty much gotten used to feeling well all the time. Since 'the incident', however, he'd been so very distressed that his other physical symptoms went completely unnoticed.

His head itched, and he scratched it, again feeling the soft bristles of new hair all over his pate. Not that he minded growing more hair, mind you! But judging from the length, it couldn't have started growing until very recently indeed. He looked up as the doctor entered, nose buried in his test results.


Schroeder looked up, a puzzled frown on his face. "You're fine. Everything checks out normal, except...."

"Except what?" Alec interrupted anxiously. "Cancer? What is it?"

"No, nothing bad, it's just that your body chemistry has changed a bit."

Alec paused in his incipient panic. "Body chemistry?"

"Well, brain chemistry is probably more the culprit. But we did an MRI, and there's nothing there to explain it." Seeing Alec's upset, he smiled and cut to the chase. "It's simply that somehow, certain areas of your brain, involving the pituitary system, seem to have re-activated, somehow. Your blood chemistry is that of a man still in his twenties."

"What's that mean, in poor old Aussie layman's terms?" His fear was giving way to confusion and curiosity.

Schroeder shrugged. "Basically, as we grow from childhood to adulthood, the pituitary glands decide how tall we grow, and when. As we mature, the pituitary system produces fewer and fewer chemicals, and we begin to age. It's got to do with hormones, as well. For men, the production of testosterone, for example. As I'm sure you've noticed, as a man ages, his libido diminishes, sometimes dysfunction sets in, although in yours and Paul Foster's cases, I've never seen any intimation of that happening." He smiled conspiratorially at the older man; and didn't notice the slight stiffening of his posture. "Anyway, in your case, your pituitary system has begun producing like you were in your twenties. I'd like to do more tests, but I don't think we'll find anything wrong. It's an odd fluke, to be sure, but I shouldn't worry about it. You're not having hideous migraines, are you?"

"Only when dealing with telepaths," Alec deadpanned. Schroeder, who was dealing with them as well, smiled and chuckled.

"Well then, you've nothing to worry about I shouldn't think. Meanwhile, I'd like some more samples. Blood and urine, for now, and perhaps later, if you're still concerned, or if the new tests turn up anything, perhaps a spinal tap."

Alec winced. He hoped it didn't come to that. In the meanwhile, he'd let them have their samples and go and talk to Louise, as well. Damn, his head itched!

"Hallo, Alec. How are you feeling?" Louise greeted him softly as he entered her office.

"Has Schroeder sent you his report, yet?"

She frowned. "Report? On what?"

"Me. Seems my brain is acting funny. The pituitary system's back online and producing like I was a kid, again."

Her breath caught. Pituitary system? That could explain.... "Symptoms?"

He came close and bent down so she could see the top of his head. "This, for one. Itches like mad."

She saw... hair. Lots of it. All the same length of stubble. She bit her lower lip and touched. It was real, and maybe as much as an eighth of an inch long. Perhaps a long day's growth of beard for a heavy bearded man, which Alec was not.

"What else?"

"Well, the lack of arthritis, to start with. Now this. What else could there be?" He moved back and sat in her visitor's chair.

She regarded him, looking closely at him. "Your skin's changed, too, hasn't it? Softer?"

He looked surprised and rubbed his hand over his face, and then looked at the back of his hands. "Spots are fading a bit, as well, yes."

She nodded. "It might also explain a few other things."

"Like what?"

"Like you're being able to pick up Paul Foster with one hand and throw him?" She smiled when he blushed.

"I thought that was just anger."

"Could have been testosterone, as well. I do know that since that day, you've exuded a certain...ummm, 'alpha male' vibration that dares anyone to come between you and Rachel."

He frowned. "I do?"

Louise laughed. "Yes, you do. And Ed does the same with me. I noticed some changes almost immediately, but couldn't put my finger on what it was. From the first time you made mental contact with Wind chimes, the changes have been taking place." She leaned across her desk towards him. "I think that what's happened is that the telepathy has activated parts of the brain we don't normally use. Ed's got elevated levels of testosterone, as I'm willing to bet do you. By exercising those portions of the brain used in telepathy, you've also perhaps re-activated the pituitary system. They always said that aging is more to do with attitude than anything else. You've had new areas of your brain stimulated, as have Rachel, Ed, Peter Carlin, and myself. All five of us are showing signs of...well, to put it bluntly, reverse aging. Remember Peter had just come back from medical leave?"


"Well, there's now no sign of the injury ever having occurred. The muscles and tendons in his shoulder and hip have completely healed. With no scarring, no residual pain or stiffness."

"Because our body chemistry has changed."


He frowned. "Just because we've learned to use telepathy?"

"Yes." She was excited, hoping he'd see it.

"The aliens. They age much more slowly than we do, have few or no diseases...all because of their means of communication's effects on their brains?"

"I think so."

"Bloody hell. We're compatible genetically. What are the chances we're the same species?"

"I don't know. There are genetic differences, but they could be race, rather than species differences."

Alec scowled. "Christian Island. They bred with multiple partners, meaning it was possible for them to inbreed for generations, making the gene pool more and more shallow. How did we end up so far away from each other in space?"

Louise sat back, shrugging. "No idea. But we are compatible. But there are differences, the physiology isn't quite the same, just very close. It makes the belief in evolution a bit harder to take; the odds of this close a similarity is beyond astronomic."

Alec chuckled. "You mean, God made us all in His image? I wonder if they have animals similar to ours?"

Louise stared at him. "I have no idea. We'll have to ask. But that's not the point. The point is, all five of us are growing younger, but not through some unknown substance or drug. Our own bodies have returned to producing the body chemistry of ourselves, back in our twenties."

"So, how long will the effects last? A month? A year?"

"I don't know, but I'm looking forward to finding out, aren't you?"

"Louise, I'm seventy years old. I don't want to live forever, and I never wanted to be God."

"You won't, Alec. The most it might do is slow down the aging process for a while."

"Louise, I'm growing hair; and it's dark, like it used to be before I went gray. Did you look at the longer stuff? It's got dark roots."

She looked at him in consternation. "I don't know, Alec. I just don't know, but it's healing you. Your arthritis is gone, you're not in constant pain when you move. You don't have to take drugs any more. You're healthier than you've been in years."

"And I can't make love with my wife," he reminded her, sadly.

"You will, Alec. I promise, you will."

His smile was melancholy. "The only real question is, when?"

For that, she had no answer at all.

Rachel looked up, sensing her husband's approach, her welcoming smile dimmed when she also sensed his unease. She stood to meet him.

"What is it, laddie?"

"The telepathy. It's made changes us."

"What sort of changes?" There was a distinct tone of worry in her voice.

"Let's go home, lass. I'm sick of this place at the moment."

"All right, laddie." She smiled and gave him a hug, knowing from the way he clung to her that whatever it was that was bothering him, it wasn't too serious, but terribly upsetting. Releasing him, she smiled reassuringly and, hand in hand, they left SHADO and Harlington-Straker behind for the first time in over a week.

Upon entering their house, the first thing they did was open some windows to let in some fresh air. "One disadvantage of spending so much time at work, laddie." Rachel wrinkled up her nose at the mustiness.

"Yeah. I'm glad you suggested getting take away, though." He smiled tiredly at her as he set out their dinner on the table.

"You haven't told me what's wrong, laddie."

"After we eat?"

She looked at him, worried. "Tell me now, laddie. I shan't be able to eat, otherwise."

He sighed. "Seems the telepathy has gotten parts of our brains working again." He looked at her, wondering how she'd take the news.


He took a deep breath and sighed heavily. "Seems it's reactivated parts that deal with aging. We're getting younger."

She frowned, considering. "Younger?"

"My blood chemistry say's I'm in my twenties, and I'm growing hair. Dark hair." He tilted his head down so she could see. Mouth agape, she leaned closer to see, and then touch.

"Lovely," she purred with a grin. "I've always liked running my fingers through your hair."

"What?" He blinked.

She smiled tenderly at him. "Laddie, if it lasts, it means we have more time together. Always and forever and beyond. The only real regret I've ever had was that we didn't meet sooner. If we're 'younger', then that simply means we have more time together, laddie. It's wonderful!" She threw her arms around him and kissed him excitedly.

When he'd thought of being younger, he'd thought about the seventy years he'd already been through and didn't want to relive them. But the idea of living longer with his lass... well, that was something else entirely. "Oh, sweet lass." He hugged her tightly. "Come on, then. Dinner's getting cold."

"All right." She released him and sat down, but instead of taking the seat opposite him, as she normally would, she sat beside him, close enough to touch.

It was the most reassuring thing she could have done.

"Trade sides with me, laddie."

He frowned and paused in the act of getting into bed. "Whatever for?"

"Because I asked you to?" She smiled at him and, with a shrug, he circled around their bed and climbed in on the opposite side from normal. He felt odd even as she slid in beside him and snuggled into his arms. The way she held him, though, reassured him.

"Remember the time I told you about my first fight, laddie?"

His laughter was no more than a soft 'chuff' of breath. "Yes, you were so excited." He shivered at the memory, "You shook like the Jenny, climbing into a stall."

"Yes. The wind in my face, the vibration from the motor, the backwash of the prop? I screamed when he did a loop-de-loop. It was such a wonderful feeling, laddie."

"I remember, lass. It's always been the same for me, as well." He gently kissed her, enjoying the warmth of her body beside him and that soft sense of her presence in his mind that reassured him that she still loved him above all others.

"Sweet laddie." She kissed him and ran her hand gently up his sternum. He responded automatically, shifting and deepening the kiss, his own hand gently teasing her body. She caught him thinking about not starting anything he couldn't finish, and pushed him onto his back, sliding a leg across him and straddling him.

"Rachel?" he asked in confusion.

"Hush, laddie." She began to rub his chest much the same way she would rub his back, with long, firm, slow strokes, up and out. Within moments, she felt him arch beneath her and smiled as he softly moaned. She shifted slightly, so she could feel him better and continued her gentle ministrations. After a time, when he was closer to sleep than wakefulness, she softly began to speak.

"Remember our first time together, laddie? I didn't know anything at all, but you were so gentle and patient with me. Touching me and teaching me until I was more than ready."

"Sweet lass," he murmured softly, his mind going back to that night and his fear of hurting her. She caught his thought and smiled.

"You'd never hurt me, laddie; not deliberately at any road. Touch me, laddie. Gently, now, yes, like that." She continued gently stroking his chest, shoulders and arms, as his hands began to slowly touch her in all the ways she liked best. He'd taken great care and time to learn to please her and he had never failed, even when he was incapable of pleasing himself. Now it was her turn to take charge and, if possible, return the favor. "Remember when you showed me how to do this?" She asked, her voice a low-pitched almost purr. She leaned down over him and kissed his chest, suckling briefly on a nipple. He bucked slightly beneath her and she felt him stir. She moved over to lavish the same attention on the other one, and felt him stir again. Sitting back up, she gently ran her hands up his chest and throat; cupping his face, she bent down to kiss him soundly.

"Oh, lass," he softly moaned as his hands drifted up her body, gently caressing as they moved, coming to rest and gently kneading her breasts. She knew him well, after six and a half years of marriage, and with their mental connection allowing them to connect more strongly, for the first time, she took charge. She was totally undemanding, just as he'd been that first time, and to his surprise and both of their delight, his body responded.

"Fly with me, laddie!" And he did.

"My lass," he murmured afterwards as she snuggled against him.

"Yours, laddie. Always and forever, and beyond."

"Always and forever and beyond, sweet lass."

Maybe a much longer life wouldn't be so bad, so long as it included his precious bride.

She awoke to the gentle, arousing touch of her husband and stretched, pressing against him. "Come fly with me, lass," he murmured in a velvet purr of desire.

"Gladly, laddie."

They were late for work.

Their mental connection had strengthened. More importantly, with the confidence built by her constant bolstering of their link, his telepathic abilities grew, as well. As did his hair.

"You can't go to the premier like that, laddie," she teased him. "You're going to have to have the dreaded buzz cut, I'm afraid."

"I haven't had my hair that short since I entered the Air Force, lass!"

"You can't go out like this, though, laddie. How about, just this once, you wear a hairpiece?"

"I'd rather the buzz cut, lass."

She grinned. "All right. It's a quarter of an inch long, already, Karl will be by in a bit to cut it all even." She stroked his cheek. "You're going to look great, laddie."

Alec snorted. "Only in your eyes, lass." He regarded her with a fond smile. "But then, yours is the only opinion I value."

Her smile softened, "My laddie." She came into his arms and they kissed. They parted just as the door opened and the commander came in.

"I keep hoping I'll catch you in flagrante delicato, but something tells me that you knew I was coming." He was smiling. It had been a quiet night and he and his lovely wife had thoroughly enjoyed one another's company.

"You broadcast your thoughts, Ed," Alec complained. "It's like you're coming with trumpets and clarions to herald your arrival." He shrugged at Ed's surprised expression. "Then again, it could just be me."

"I only knew he was coming because you knew, laddie."

Ed shook his head and sighed. "This is what you get for being such a people person, Alec." He grinned. "All the lovely escapades with the media." He chuckled and then frowned. "Your hair looks terrible."

"Oh, thank you very much. This from a man who suddenly has a cowlick." He sniggered as Ed ran his hand over his hair and found right on the back of his skull where new hair was pushing the longer strands up.

"Well, I'm not about to complain."

"I shouldn't think you would; nor am I. However, since I have the lovely task of going to the premier tonight, I'm getting it all cut off."

"No one will know you, Alec."

Alec shrugged. "I can hardly go out in public like this, now, can I? As it is, there's going to be speculation on where all the nice, dark hair came from."

"I'll hate it being so short, but I'll be able to run my fingers through it soon enough." Rachel couldn't seem to stop grinning and touching her husband. Ed flushed slightly in embarrassment, feeling like he was intruding.

"Well, I just thought I'd drop this off with you. It's Foster's script." He shook his head. "It's a bit close to home, but it reads amusingly enough."

"You read it?"

"Yes, last night while Louise was running more tests. There were a couple of scenes that I almost laughed at."

For Ed Straker to say he almost laughed was high comedy, indeed. Alec took the script, already wondering who they might get to star in it. "Then I'd best make sure I've nothing to spill as I read it."

"Good idea. Well, enjoy this evening. I'm going to take Louise home, for a change. Carlin will stay on station in case our guests need anything."

"All right. How are they doing, by the way?" He felt his wife's annoyance that he was focusing on business instead of her, but it wasn't real, and he knew it.

Ed shrugged. "It's all in Louise and Schroeder's hands, I'm afraid." He paused. "Look, why don't you take Carlin and Wind chimes with you, tonight? She might enjoy it."

"You're not afraid she might cause a scene?"

Ed shook his head. "No. She and Carlin are practically inseparable, which doesn't bode well for when she returns to her world with the children, so we might as well make her time here as pleasant as we can." He didn't have to say that allowing her to go out and see their world might entice her to remain.

"All right. It's fine with me. In the meanwhile, I need a haircut."

"Yes, I suppose you do. One good thing about being blond, my hair isn't coming in any darker." Ed smirked and left them.

"He's enjoying this," Alec groused good-naturedly. His lass ran her fingers through his hair and settled to massaging his scalp as he sat. "You could go on doing that, but I'd rather we'd a bit more privacy."

"So I'll lock the door," she purred, kissing him.

"Lovely idea.

While he was getting his hair cut, evening it out to a hideously short quarter of an inch in length, Alec began reading Paul Foster's script. Several times, he found himself chuckling. It was an amusing bit of fluff, and he could certainly see it as a film, but more as something for television rather than the big screen, still, it would allow Foster to stretch as a director, not to mention demonstrating his surprising talent for comedy. He took one look at himself in the mirror and burst into laughter. "I look like that Pasquale kid in the comic strip!"

"Good observation, laddie. Just this once? Please? They'll make it look like your usual hair, laddie."

"Oh, all right. I hate that spirit gum they stick it down with, though." And so he sat through an extra hour of having a wig applied and styled to look like his normal hair.

Looking in the mirror, he had to admit the stylist had done a good job. "But if anyone asks, I'm telling them the truth!"

"But of course you will," Rachel giggled at him. "Come along, we need to get dressed for the 'gala event'."

"Lass, a Paul Foster film is hardly a gala event."

"I know, but the poor man needs all the bolstering he can get."

"You're joking."

"Not at all. He's terrified of you, laddie. And by association, me. The reason he keeps hoping Ed will attend is so he doesn't have to play nice with you." She saw the confusion on his face. "You didn't know?"

Alec shook his head. "I'd no idea. D'you think I should take the grapefruit spoon out of my pencil cup?"

His wife laughed. "Only if you want to stop terrorizing the man, laddie."

"I'll give it some thought." The idea that the brash and lecherous Paul Foster was afraid of him gave him pause. It had never occurred to him, before. Oh, he knew he'd literally frightened the piss out of him that day in the cafeteria, and had placed a reminder of it in his pencil cup, but to know the man was truly afraid of him, well, that was something to consider. He looked at the spoon in his pencil cup and with a sigh, took it out and placed it in his desk drawer.

Wind chimes was excited. Rachel and Louise had taken her shopping for a dress suitable for the evening and explained what it was about. She'd be out in public, on display, but not because she was an alien, but because Peter worked for the studio. She didn't quite understand all the nuances, only that this was something very special. Since she'd never worn heels in her life, and since she was quite tall, barely an inch shorter than Peter, they helped her pick out a nice, comfortable pair of flats and a pair of palazzo pants that would cover them, with a flowing, gauzy tunic that brought out the unusual color of her eyes and set off her hair.

"This is Amy, she'll be doing your makeup for this evening."


Louise smiled. She'd brought her above to get her hair styled and makeup done. Her long hair had been swept up into a chignon, with bits framing her narrow face and giving her long, elegant neck added dimension. Now, it was time for the finishing touches.

"Yes, dearie, although you don't look like you need any. Your skin is flawless, and you've a nice color, but we'll just do it up a bit to withstand the lights, all right?" Amy deftly plied her craft, managing to intensify the exotic beauty before her. "So, Missus Straker, should I be watching for this one?"

Louise tilted her head and realized that Wind chimes reminded her of someone. It took her a moment, but she realized that she looked a bit like the late Audrey Hepburn. "I don't know, Amy. For now, she's simply going to the opening with Peter Carlin and the Freemans."

"Well, girl, you've the look for the big screen, I'll give you that." Amy smiled and nodded, pleased with her handiwork. "You'll be the belle of the ball, dearie."

Wind chimes looked at herself in the mirror and was amazed. She looked just like the humans. She hoped Peter liked it.

Peter Carlin gaped in awe at Wind chimes. She was absolutely gorgeous. His heart leapt into his throat and fluttered there in excitement. The greens and golds of her gauze tunic brought out the rich auburn of her hair and matched the color of her eyes. The rich brown of her trousers with the gauzy tunic gave her the appearance of a wood nymph, or perhaps a dryad. She was magnificent.

He didn't say anything. She couldn't speak to him in her people's fashion unless they were touching. She wasn't sure why, when the others could speak to her from a distance, but she thought that perhaps he was afraid to let her become any closer than they were. From his dreams, she knew he was dreading her leaving with their children. Theirs. Not hers, as her people thought of them, theirs. His just as much as hers. It was something new for her to consider. Her culture actively sought many mates, but the humans tended to choose just one and remained with that one for the rest of their lives, not always, she'd learned, but historically accurate.

And the more she thought about leaving, the bigger the ache she felt inside, knowing that she would never see him again. The thought of that bothered her a great deal. Peter had been her friend's brother and she had somehow connected to him in such a way that she didn't want to lose the connection they had formed.

"Do you not like this?" she asked tentatively, worried that her appearance offended him in some way.

"You look magnificent," he murmured in reply, and upon taking her hand, she was able to connect to him mentally and sense how overwhelmed he was.

"I'm still just me."

"I know, and you've always been beautiful, but suddenly, in those clothes and with your hair all done up and makeup on, you look like a movie star."

"What is a movie star?"

Her honest confusion made him laugh and he promised to show her at the premier.

They rode to the premier with the Freemans in the studio limousine. Paul Foster had arrived earlier and separately, with a lovely young starlet on each arm. Peter, as the junior member of the studio contingent, got out first and held the door for the others, handing out Wind chimes, last. There were gasps of wonder at the beautiful girl no one had ever seen before. Instantly, all eyes followed her as she gracefully took her escort's arm and followed Alec and Rachel in.

"Who is this lovely creature, Mr. Freeman?" one of the media people asked, practically drooling as he gazed on Wind chimes.

Alec smiled and shook his head. "That would be telling. Let's just say she's Mr. Carlin's date, this evening, shall we?"

"Is she an actress?"


"Whyever not?"

"She's an ambassador, to tell you the truth, from some little country somewhere." He certainly wasn't going to let on that she was an alien; although it might be good for a laugh, Ed would commit mayhem upon his person.

Smiling at everyone, he led the way into the theatre.

After the film, while the fans milled about outside, begging for autographs, Alec and company waited for the crowds to clear. He watched the starry-eyed Wind chimes trying to see everything at once, and at the same time clinging to Peter's arm for protection.

*"Well, child? What do you think of what we do in our spare time?"*

She looked up at him, smiling broadly. *"This is fun. I like this."*

Peter grinned and shook his head. "This is the crazy stuff, but then it may be all we have left to do when you go home." His voice caught a bit on the last part, but he smiled bravely; he did want their war to end.

Alec caught Wind chimes's thoughts and smiled. Seeing Paul Foster, he motioned him over.

"Paul, good showing, don't you think?"

Foster grinned. "Panned by the critics as usual, but the fans certainly liked it. Have you had a chance to read my script?"

"Yes, I have. I like it. Even better, Straker liked it."

"He read it himself?" Paul was shocked and delighted. He'd left his starlets drinking their dinner at the reception party. "So, you think it has a chance?"

"I do, but not as a feature film." He saw Paul's crestfallen look and shook his head. "I thought it would do well as a pilot for television. Perhaps a series? Rather a more adult version of I Dream of Jeannie or Mork and Mindy?"

"A series?" That was certainly something to think about. "A series. Yes, I suppose it could. I could give the alien powers, perhaps? Along the lines of Jeannie or the character in Bewitched?"

"How about making them telepathic? Just enough out of the ordinary to make it work. Perhaps she can only read minds if she's in physical contact with them?"

Foster thought about it and began grinning with excitement. "Oh, that's good. That's excellent. Yes, I can see it. I'll start on the rewrite. That is, if you think it's worth pursuing?"

Alec grinned, ignoring the horror he sensed from his wife and Peter Carlin. "By all means, do. You said you had no one in mind for the roles?"

"No, no, I haven't. Have you thought of someone?"

"What about young Wendy, here?" He indicated Wind chimes, who cast a doubtful glance at the portly Paul Foster.

Foster, who had been drooling over this vision of loveliness all evening, smiled what he thought of as his most seductive smile and took her hand. Wind chimes resisted the impulse to pull away, but sensed a certain proprietary interest from Peter.

"Enchanted, Wendy," Foster almost simpered. She was careful not to mentally link with him, as she'd been warned by both Alec and Peter not to, but she could sense his feelings and couldn't resist wiping her hand on her tunic after he kissed it. She gave him a weak smile and held more tightly to Peter's arm, almost screaming at him mentally about how hideous the man was. Peter smiled.

"Are you an actress?"

"Not yet."

"Really? Peter, where have you been keeping this delicious morsel?"

"To myself, Foster, as you might expect." Paul had become just a bit more sensitive to people since his dealings with Alec. He stopped preening for the girl and backed down, subtly, to be sure, but still, he backed down.

"I can quite understand you r concern," he agreed. "Do you think she could do the role justice?"

Alec grinned. "I'm positive she could." He could be sure because she wouldn't have to act.

Paul looked at the girl, and then at Peter, and had a bright idea. "How about Peter, here, for the role of the boyfriend? I know he's quite a bit older than Wendy, but if you noticed in the script, the aliens look much younger than they really are, she could be quite a bit older than he is, if you know what I mean?"

"I do, indeed. I think it's got a lot of good promise as a series. Come by my office Monday afternoon and we can hash out the details?"

"I'm looking forward to it! Say, three-ish?"

"Say four?"

"Four it is. I'm looking forward to our meeting."

"All right, Paul. Look, we're going to head out, now. Enjoy your party, you deserve it." With a sigh of relief, he called for their limo and slipped out with the rest of his party.

"I'm so glad that's over with. How about we stop for a late supper, somewhere?"

"Where did you have in mind, laddie? We're a bit overdressed for our usual haunts, don't you think?"

Alec looked down at his tuxedo and sighed. "Too right. Any suggestions?"

"We could go to Ciccone's. That's always a mixed group," Peter offered tentatively.

Alec frowned. "I don't think I know that one. Italian?"

"Yes, sir. Great food, live music, rather a cross between a Godfather film and a pizzaria."

Alec grinned. "Sounds lovely. Lass?"

"Just as long as they have real food and not some hideous 'hors d'oeuvre of the month' Foster likes to foist off on everyone."

"Oh, no. Ciccone's has wonderful food. Their pasta is made fresh, in-house. Nothing comes from a can at all."

"Sounds great. "Carstairs? Do you know where he's talking about?" Alec called to the driver.

"Ciccone's, sir? Yes, sir."

"Let's go, then."

The restaurant was all Carlin had said it would be, and better. Their formal attire passed without comment or reaction. Looking around the restaurant, Alec recognized some definite Mafioso types and smiled politely, but without showing submissiveness. He received an inclined nod in return, and by stretching his new telepathic abilities, 'heard' the Don ask who the distinguished gentleman was and smiled when no one had any idea, only that he must be important to be coming here in a Gucci Tuxedo and shoes.

He smothered his laughter, sharing the conversation with his companions, who were also amused. Wind chimes asked about what he had meant about her 'acting' for Paul Foster, explaining that he gave her an ill feeling. He explained what he'd meant and that he'd have Peter read her the script.

"Too bad you won't be staying. If you were, I'd get you started learning to read and write so that you actually could become an actress if you wished, but it's hardly worthwhile if you're going home in a few months." He smiled to himself and got a mental 'high-five' from Rachel at Wind chimes's sad expression as she looked at Peter, who was stoically ignoring the dig, not realizing that they were hoping to convince his lover to stay with him.

"Well, she's not staying, is she? She's got to go home and prove to them that it works, doesn't she?" Peter's breath caught and he violently shook his head. "Sorry. There's no use wishing, now, is there? It's not going to happen." No matter how much I would like it to.

Alec and Rachel exchanged knowing looks while Wind chimes lightly touched Peter's hand. "Would I be permitted to stay here, with you?" She'd been thinking about it ever since she realized that she cared for him in much the same way he cared for her. She didn't know what love was, but the longer she was here, the better she came to know humans, the more she cared for Peter, the less she wanted to leave. She'd made friends, here, and Peter... Peter was worth staying for, all by himself.

"I'm sure it could be arranged," Alec softly murmured with a smile. Carlin was staring at Wind chimes, not believing what he was hearing.

"You want to stay?"

"With you, if you want me to. Yes."

"I'd love for you to stay with me." He was practically hyperventilating. She wanted to stay with him? "But what about your people at home? What about...what about the babies?"

She looked at him, puzzled. "They would stay with us, of course."

"I wonder how slow a crossbred will mature?" Rachel softly asked. Her companions looked at her in confusion. She shrugged. "Will your children mature at the human rate of twenty years, or at your people's rate of seventy or so years? Somewhere in between? Will you be susceptible to human diseases? Will your children? Is your immune system so very different from ours?"

"We do not have sickness or disease on my world." She frowned, worried. "Could our children survive on my world?"

"Probably. More importantly, can you survive on ours?"

Wind chimes glanced at the worried Peter and smiled shyly. "I would like to try, if Peter would like me to?"

"I'd like you to stay with me." He touched her hand and mentally told her how much he loved her and how much he wanted her to stay with him. Alec, who picked up his broadcast thoughts turned his attention to his wife and smiled at her, telling her through their mental link that Ed had better agree, or there'd be hell to pay.

Their food came in the midst of this and they shifted their attention to the excellent meal.

As they were getting ready to leave, Alec mentally requested they wait for him a moment while he paid his respects to the Don. They watched him curiously as he made his way to the group of men in business suits in the corner.

"Don Julio Delatorre? We haven't met. My name is Alec Freeman. I understand you were wondering about my companions and myself?"

"Signore, how is it that you know who I am?"

Alec smiled and shrugged expansively. "I know many things. It is useful in my business."

"And just what is your business, signore?"

"I produce films, is all. We'd just come from a premier and desired something a bit better than the standard fare served at such functions. I noticed your interest in us and just thought I'd satisfy your curiosity." And keep you from having us followed to find out who we are, of course.

The Don, surprised by Alec's manners, which would have done any of his lieutenants proud, smiled his gratitude. "You make films, eh? What kind of films?"

"Mostly documentaries and hideous little cult films; I'm with Harlington-Straker Studios."

The Don nodded and smiled. "Thank you, signore, you are quite right, I was curious as to why anyone would dress so finely to come to our homely little ristorante."

"Ah, the food was recommended, of course. I shall no doubt return again, now that I've been introduced to the fine cuisine available here." He glanced over at his companions and straightened to his full height. "Now, however, it is getting late, and we must be on our way. It's been a pleasure, Don Delatorre, to have made your acquaintance.

"The pleasure is mine, Signore Freeman." He watched as Alec executed an almost militarily precise turn and strode to join his companions. To his companions, he murmured softly, "That is a man to cultivate."

"You think he can be useful, Don Julio?"

The Don shook his head. "Signore Freeman is many things, but deep down, he is a soldier. How he knew of my curiosity is of interest to me. Find out about him and see what relationship he might have to the police or the home office, si? I will know him better."

"You think he might mean trouble?"

The Don shrugged. "That is what I wish to find out." He looked towards the door through which Alec Freeman and company had gone and wondered.

"Was that such a good idea, laddie?"

Alec shrugged. "He was curious. I'd rather give him some information rather than have him following us home, lass. First, however, we need to drop Peter and Wind chimes back at the studio."

"Why did you call me that other name to Mr. Foster?"

Alec grinned. "Because it's close to your real name, but is a not uncommon human name, as well. Peter, there's a rough draft of a script in my office, pick it up and read it to her. Tell me what you think of it?"

"Yes, sir."

"And we, my lass, are going to go home, tonight." There was a promise in his dulcet tones that made her shiver with anticipation.

"Sounds wonderful, laddie."

Of course, it was.

Louise cornered Alec on Monday, following the film premier on Friday. "Alec."

He looked up from his desk and grinned. "Good morning, Louise. How was your weekend?"

"Very nice, yours?"

Alec leaned back in his chair, beaming contentedly. "Spent most of Saturday and all of Sunday with the planes. Hangar Cat sends her greetings. She's taken to collecting pets for herself." He shook his head. His mighty huntress loved to stalk and capture prey, but had, of late, been taking some of them back to the hangar to play with. He'd rousted out four hedgehogs and a rabbit from the building. They were all fine and healthy, but obviously, the cat had been in need of companionship. "We brought her home with us for a bit. When she's tired of being a pet again, we'll take her back out."

"How's your problem doing?" She had her suspicions, but wanted confirmation.

"Gone." He regarded her for a moment. "I suppose you're the one who suggested to Rachel we swap which side of the bed we sleep on?"

Louise grinned, relieved. "That was one suggestion."

Alec nodded and leaned forward on his arms atop the desk. "I suppose you also suggested we relive our wedding night, in reverse?"

"It worked?"

"Perfectly. Thank you." He took a deep breath and let it out in a contented sigh. "Our mental connection is stronger than ever, and as I'm sure you've noticed, my hair is growing like mad." In the five days since it had first been noticed, his hair had grown an astounding half an inch.

"Showing any signs of slowing down?"

Alec shrugged. "Not yet, but Rache said she could almost see it growing. I noticed Ed's got a bit of a cowlick that's getting worse."

Louise grinned. "He does, at that. Time for a new hairstyle, I think. Put the part on the right should take care of the sticking up bits. What did you do Friday night?"

"Went to the premiere, why?"

She shook her head. "How did you convince Wind chimes to stay?"

"I didn't. She convinced herself. They may not know what love is, but she's in love with Peter Carlin. You're going to let her stay, aren't you?"

"Of course. Ed's been talking about it for weeks, now. But if she and her children stay, what do we do with the others?"

Alec shrugged. "We still need to know that it's viable. The babies have to be born and survive. Since they don't have any illness or disease on their world, it might be vital to have both human and an alien doctor on hand to treat them. Rache brought up some good questions, too. How quickly will they mature? Twenty years like a human, or seventy years or more like them?"

"There are a lot of things we didn't consider before going into this, I realize." She sighed and sank down into the visitor's chair. "The only thing I am sure of is that I'm in full agreement that Wind chimes is welcome here, and that Peter Carlin loves her. If she'd insisted on going back, I'd have tried to see if he could have gone with her, but that would be very hard on him, being with the people who literally sentenced his sister to death for their own purposes."

"And we'd have no assurances for his safety," Alec agreed.

"Right. For now, however, we need to monitor her progress and we need to learn as much about them as we can. Sun in the clouds wishes to learn to speak English, which is promising. The two boys do, as well. Have you heard their names?"

"Only chance and Fondest hope? Poor lads. They'd be laughed off the face of the earth with names like that."

"Well, I've got questions about their means of testing."


"Here, we take a semen sample and look at it under a microscope, simply counting spermatozoa. They've never tried that. Unfortunately, those boys have no concept on how to give a sample, and I'm loathe to do anything that may be against their culture or beliefs."

"You need to know if they masturbate?"

"I need them to learn how so I can get a sample. They simply look at their hormonal levels and judge accordingly. Admittedly, low testosterone levels are indicative, but they aren't the only means of testing, and certainly not the best."

"Lovely." He sighed. There was no reason to ask why him. He knew the answer. He could speak to them without physical contact, something that no one else could. There were certain obvious disadvantages to being a 'people person'. At least he would have the capability, which he wouldn't have had just a week earlier.


"Just before lunch? So that you and Rachel can, um, be together afterwards?" She knew what she was asking, but she couldn't think of anyone else suitable. "Although, perhaps Dr. Schroeder might be willing."

Alec jumped at the opportunity to bow out. "Excellent choice. He's a medical person as well. Let him do it." He barely managed to keep the pleading tone out of his voice.

Louise chuckled. "All right. Be that way. I'll ask Schroeder, then. But you'll be the backup, and you'll have to explain it to them. Poor Schroeder has a terrible time communicating with them."

"Why do you suppose that is?"

She shook her head. "I've no idea, but he's still got to touch foreheads with them. Sun in the clouds is curious about the whole procedure. Maybe she can assist?"

"Sounds like you're planning an orgy."

Louise shook her head and sighed. "Men. They may get older, but they never, ever manage to get past adolescence in some things."

Alec grinned cheekily. "And to be honest, that's part of our charm."

Louise chuckled. "You're incorrigible, and you're right. I wouldn't have you any other way. Nor would Rachel want you to suddenly grow up and act your age."

"And just what is my age, these days?"

She smiled and stood up. "Young enough to have no gray in your hair."

"I didn't even start to go gray until I hit forty."

"Then you must be forty or so. Does it bother you?"

"It did, until my lass pointed out that it means we'll have more time together. I like that. I like it a lot."

"Good. Me, too. It's not affecting me quite as much, I've noticed. But I'm considerably younger than the rest of you. Peter, as well. He's maybe going back a decade, or so; but you and Ed and Rachel, thirty years younger, at least. At least it isn't too terribly sudden."

"Sudden enough. In another month, I'll have a full head of dark hair. There are going to be questions."

"Tell them you've had your portrait done and you keep it in the attic?"

Alec laughed. "Good idea. I'll try it."

"I'd better get going. I'm glad you're back to normal."

"Oh, I'm not, completely. I'm a great deal more aware of people around me, now. I tend to tap into their thoughts to see if they mean us harm."

"You're actively reading the minds of total strangers?"

"Sometimes. The other night after the premiere, we stopped at an Italian restaurant and there was a Mafioso there. I checked them out, just because, and stopped by to pay my respects on our way out."

"What's your feeling about them?"

Alec shrugged. "He's curious, but not threatening. I shouldn't worry about him. He'll have his people check on me, find out that I told the truth and that should be the end of it."

"I hope so. Meanwhile, I need to get going. You may hear from me...or those boys calling for help."

"I'll stick close, then. I've got a meeting with Paul Foster at four, so Rachel and I will have lunch a bit earlier than usual, I think. I'm going to spend most of the day aboveground. How's the Astrophysical Commission taking all this? I haven't been called on the carpet lately."

"They're dubious, of course. Would prefer we dissect them to helping them, but that's their problem, not mine."

"I don't envy Ed that one."

Louise shrugged. "There isn't much they can do, really. I think they're just annoyed to not be actively involved in the negotiations."

"Send them home with the aliens. Maybe they'll get along with 'Sweet on the tongue'." He shivered only slightly at his jibe, but Louise was pleased that he could at least say the creature's name, now.

"Not a bad idea, but I don't think that would help any. The AC is pretty old and dried up."

Alec grinned. "Older than me, some of them."

"And still holding tight to the purse strings. I'll see you later."

"All right." When the door had closed behind her, he sent out a probe for his lass. It always gave him a thrill to feel her in his head and sense her warmth and love. After a few moments of conversation and making plans for lunch, he went back to work, trying to find the money for Paul Foster's script.

Her tests proved that despite low hormone levels, the young males were not totally sterile, much to their excitement. However, it would be probably several more months (days, to them) before there would be any evidence that a lower temperature might have some affect on them.

Wind chimes and Peter Carlin were scheduled to star in Paul Foster's pilot. 'Wendy Chimes' was a total unknown, but had a decided knack for the part of an alien come to Earth to find a mate. She found the premise startlingly realistic. She simply had to play herself. With the pilot in the can, they waited, hoping for some network somewhere to pick it up and order episodes, or perhaps syndication. As they waited, Wind chimes began to show her pregnancy and Peter became even more solicitous of her. They were constantly together, forming a deep and hopefully lasting bond. When pressed by Sun in the clouds about her intention to remain on Earth, she simply informed her that it wasn't fair for her to take Peter's children from him, that he cared for them as much as she would; that he cared for her as his mate in the human fashion. Sun in the clouds looked at her for a long time and then agreed. Then she confided in her that working with Dr. Schroeder had given her the idea of staying, as well. Perhaps he would be willing to mate with her?

Wind chimes smiled. *"You'll have to ask him. In the meanwhile, how are your English lessons going?"*

"I am able to speak, now, but only slowly. If they speak too fast, I get lost." She spoke very precisely and carefully, but it was sufficient for their hosts to be very pleased with her. The other two females showed no interest in learning human speech; they simply wished to be impregnated and sent home. At least they weren't invading anyone's mind seeking a mate.

Peter Carlin bought a cottage on the edge of Harlington-Straker studios. He was just a short distance down the lane from the Fords, who had been more than happy to help them move. Wind chimes had been thrilled with the little house. There were three bedrooms, but only one bath. And there was a full basement with plenty of room for anything they wished.

It had been just over ten months since she'd arrived, asking for peace. She was sleeping peacefully in her mate's arms, the way he liked it, when she was awakened by an odd feeling. Her eyes snapped open and she held her breath for a moment, then shook Peter awake.

"Hmm? Wha?"

"It is time for the children. It is too soon, though. It should be at least four more weeks." She'd learned to tell time in the human fashion and knew that she should have been at least four to six weeks to term.

"Don't worry. Remember, humans don't take as long. That may have affected it. Let me call Dr. Straker and tell her we're on our way to the medlab and to ask her to get the team ready." He'd been through childbirth before, with his late human wife, so he wasn't nearly as anxious as she was.

"Sorry to wake you, Dr. Straker, but Wendy says it's time." After making their pilot film, the name had stuck, much to everyone who knew the truth's amusement. "We'll meet you at medlab." With that, he quickly dressed and helped his enormously pregnant mate down to the car and then the few short miles to the studio and the medical facilities below.

Just like humans, there was stress and pain and a very great deal of fluid. Fortunately, her water didn't break until they'd gotten to the medlab.

Peter held her tightly, supporting her as her contractions increased. Because they were connected mentally, he was feeling every pain, every contraction, every breath she took. Despite all that, and his fear for his lover, he wouldn't have missed the experience for anything.

Because of the differences in physiology between their species, it hadn't been deemed safe to do an ultrasound. One thing that had not been taken into consideration was that there were twins in Peter Carlin's family.

Instead of the expected three babies, there were four, and two of them were identical twins, who both wanted to be the first one out. It caused several long agonizing minutes for the parents, but finally, one twin was repositioned and they were safely delivered. The sounds of four squalling newborns was music to all ears, human and alien alike.

Forty-two hours after she awoke in labor, the last child was born. Wind chimes was exhausted, as was Peter. He wanted nothing more than a pillow and someplace to stretch out. The floor was looking quite inviting, at the moment, but first, he needed to take care of his mate and make sure she was recovering. Again, the mental link between the couple was extremely useful.

The fell into an exhausted slumber, with Peter still holding Wind chimes in the delivery position.

"How are they all?" Alec asked as he came down from the studio. He'd been holding up the studio end during the delivery process, as Ed refused to leave his wife, Sun in the clouds, and Dr. Schroeder to their jobs. He wanted to be there, even though it dredged up all the memories of his lost son, Johnny.

"Fine. They're fine. Carlin and Wind chimes are sleeping, at the moment. The babies are apparently healthy and they've all got very well developed lungs and vocal cords, in case you can't tell." He grinned. "Of course, the twins were a bit of a surprise, particularly to Sun in the clouds. We had to explain how humans develop twins. The twins are identical, of course, boys. The other two are girls." He smiled again. "Come on, I'll show you."

Alec grinned. You'd have thought he was showing off his new grandchild. Not that Alec felt any differently, himself. He looked through the window into the quarantine room at the four infants. They were all so tiny, he thought, but nevertheless, beautiful. "So, what do the doctors think?"

Ed shrugged and continued beaming at the children. "They appear perfectly healthy, but we'll just have to watch and wait. I'm a bit curious as to whether they'll grow like human children or the aliens. There's no telling at this point. Of course, we also need to make arrangements for the 'invading fleet'." He shook his head. "I feel a bit like a pimp, trying to line up enough men for them."

"I did a bit of research a few months back. There are several sperm banks from which we can make purchases. Since we've no worries about race, color or any of that, we shouldn't have any trouble getting this first batch inseminated. The only thing I'm worried about is do we send them home and hope they don't deliver on the way, or what?"

Ed stared at him. "Hell. I don't know." He looked around the medlab. "We certainly don't have room for sixty to ninety of them here." He shook his head and chuckled. "Looks like we'll have at least another year of this, doesn't it? Making nice to them while they all go through their pregnancies? Who'd have ever thought SHADO would become an infertility clinic for aliens?"

"Well, I'm sure the good news that their planet's heat does, indeed, affect the fertility of their men was a welcome announcement. I can just imagine every man on their planet suddenly being placed in an air conditioned suite and waited on hand and foot for the past six months. With any luck, they won't need us for very long."

Ed nodded. "It's been an interesting year, my friend. The two other females are both pregnant, and Sun in the clouds seems rather taken with Dr. Schroeder, as I'm sure you noticed."

Alec chuckled, softly. "She was taken with him from the moment she first 'spoke' to him. Poor man still doesn't know what hit him. Has she decided? To stay here, I mean? To continue helping take care of Wendy and the children?"

"I don't know about that, but she's asked to be allowed to stay with Schroeder." He grinned slyly up at his friend. "The AC is in hysterics, of course. Particularly since she's safely delivered. The twins did give them a few bad minutes."

"The way I heard it, it was more like a bad six hours."

Ed shivered. "It was. C-section was considered, but without knowing more about them, it was decided they'd only use it in case of the mother's death, to save the babies. Thank God that wasn't necessary."

"Poor Louise," Alec murmured. "Why don't you take her home, now. Remind her how much you love her just as she is, hmmm?"

"Reading people's minds again, Alec?"

Alec grinned. "Don't have to invade when people broadcast their thoughts for any old telepath to pick up on."

Ed looked at his friend. He'd easily pass for in his forties, rather than the seventy-one he knew him to be. For that matter, he was being mistaken for being forty again, much to his amusement. For those who noticed the changes in them, those 'in the know' just grinned about it, while those not 'in the know' wondered what miracle-cure for aging they'd found. Alec insisted Ed had had his portrait painted and that it was squirreled away in an attic somewhere, while he claimed he'd simply found the legendary fountain of youth. Paul Foster was insanely jealous of them both.

"Oh, Ed, by the way, one of the smaller networks has bought that pilot we did. They're calling it 'Illegal Alien'. They want fifteen episodes, to start with. Think Peter and Wendy will be up to it?" He could never resist smiling every time he said their names, because with the telepathy and resultant 'youthening', it really was a bit like never-never land, for them.

"How soon do they want the episodes?"

"Fall. Gives us six-seven months. Wendy's a quick study, and I think if we just put her in new situations, she'll simply react and we'll catch it."

"Have you told Foster, yet?"

"No. Thought I'd run it by you, first. Of course, that means that Peter won't be going back to Sky Diver."

Ed grinned. "He wouldn't be going back at any rate. We need to send word to their fleet, saying we have live births and let them come in a few at a time."

"The AC's going to scream about the costs, you know."

Ed shrugged. "The medical knowledge alone that we've gained makes it worth the expense. Schroeder is about ready to publish the transplant information we've gleaned. Unfortunately, for most humans, I don't think telepathy is a good thing. It's bad enough that you pick up everyone's thoughts without even trying, we don't need unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of it."

"Too true. Can you imagine a telepathic con man? Makes me sick just thinking about it."

"Yes, it does." He shook his head. "Where's your wife? I expected her to be down here cooing over the babies."

Alec shook his head. "She's a bit shy around infants. She said, once, that her one regret was that we hadn't met sooner, which I happen to agree with. I wasted a lot of time looking for her." He smiled. "She was definitely worth waiting for."

Ed nodded. "I must agree. Our ladies were certainly worth waiting for. And now, thanks to Wind chimes, or as everyone's now calling her, Wendy, we've a very long time, indeed, left to spend with them. I'm not sure how long it will take her to recover, but I'm certain that she'll do well in a series."

Alec smiled to himself at Ed's adroit changing of the subject. It was true, though. Telepathy certainly wasn't for everyone. Keith Ford didn't like it at all, nor did Colonel Lake or any of the Moon Base personnel. Some people simply weren't capable of mental telepathy, and others, like himself, were too good at it. Louise had determined that the personality of the human involved had a great deal to do with it. People who were task or science oriented did not do as well as those who, like Alec, were 'people' oriented. It had no bearing whatsoever to intelligence or education, for example, although those with an innate sense of curiosity took to it far more readily than most. They had been very careful and judicious in their permitting of contact between the telepathic aliens and humans. No one outside of SHADO had any idea what was going on, nor would they, with any luck at all.

"Well, I'm going to go and let Paul know it's a go for his series. He's been working on scripts with some of the writers. I managed to get both Wendy and Sunny to help with that, as well, as they've been permitted to go out in public and learn a bit more about Earth." Alec had been highly amused with the entire process and had high hopes that the rest of the planet would, as well.

Ed looked at his watch and shook his head. "I hadn't realized how long we'd been down here. I think I'll take your advice and sneak in and kidnap my wife and take her home." He smiled at his friend and added, "I'm feeling sadly neglected."

Alec chuckled and patted him on his shoulder. "Poor lad. But I think it's a lovely idea. After I give Foster the good news, I think I'll take my lass out for a very good meal and then home. After she comes down to meet the new arrivals, that is." He took one last look at the four infants, shook his head in wonder, and turned to go. "Better get your lady before something happens to grab her attention. We can leave the spreading of the good news to the rest of them until morning.... Oh, hell." He sighed and turned back, shaking his head.

"What? What's wrong?"

"Sunny has already broken the news. The fleet is on the move. We need to stop them before they get into range. Fifty-eight ships coming all at once will throw Moon Base into a tizzy."

"Bloody hell." With his lips compressed with annoyance, he followed Alec to the delivery room, where they grabbed both Sunny and Louise, and headed for the conference room.

*"That was a stupid, foolish, and dangerous thing to do, Sun in the clouds."* Alec admonished the alien doctor. She at least was contrite.

*"I apologize. It was just such a wonderful thing, the beginnings of a new generation, healthy and whole. You don't understand what it means to my people."*

*"We understand well enough, but your premature announcement has what appears to be an invasion force coming towards us at top speed. Moon Base will react as they always have. We have not disbanded our defenses, you know. We have not yet finalized any sort of a treaty."* Ed was annoyed, but still managed to not apply any censure. He'd managed to pick up a few of Alec's tricks for dealing with difficult situations involving telepaths.

Sun in the clouds dropped her head in submission. "I apologize." Her speech was slow and very deliberate, but it was a definite sign of her acceptance of blame. "We must stop them?"

"We don't have room for them all at once. You've seen our facilities, we barely have room for ten, let alone sixty to ninety of you. Did you explain that they will not be interacting with any males? That we will impregnate them via artificial insemination?"

"They do not care. They only wish to bear children and return home with them."

"What about that? Can they safely return home once they're pregnant, or do we need to take care of them until they deliver and then return home with their babies?" Louise was concerned with what the liquid breathing medium might do to gravid aliens on a year-long journey. For that matter, what would it do to the children?

"It would be best for them to either deliver here, or to be transported in stasis home; but that does not allow for any complications during pregnancy." Sunny shook her head. "I fear it would be better to have them deliver here and send them home with their children. But as you said, we haven't the room." The 'we' did not go unnoticed. Like Wendy, she was beginning to think as a resident of Earth, instead of a visiting alien.

"Where are we going to house them?" Louise asked, looking to her husband. "We can't exactly take over Mayland."

"The training facilities?" Alec suggested. When the others stared at him, he shrugged. "Place is empty for the moment. There's room for a hundred, at least, and it's remote enough. Question is, who's going to go and take care of them?" He looked pointedly at Louise and Ed. "You wouldn't want to be that far apart for an entire year or more. I know I wouldn't want to be away from my lass for any length of time. Can Schroeder and Sunny handle it on their own? What if they decide to have kids, as well? Who takes care of her?" He shook his head.

"For that matter, what's to stop the rest of their fertile females from coming?" Ed looked to his wife for suggestions.

"I think that perhaps we should simply bring their medics down here, teach them about the differences that a human/alien pregnancy has, teach them how to do artificial insemination, and send them home with several thousand vials of sperm," Louise offered. "One or two of the doctors could stay here through the ensuing pregnancies and then return home with still more semen, if it's needed."

"That might be best," Sunny agreed. "But how do we decide who will stay here and have children, and who will return home?"

"You and Alec will do that. I don't want anyone like Sweet on the tongue here at all."

Sunny shook her head. "She was desperate, approaching the end of her time of fertility. There are many like her in the fleet."

"Then the first thing is to tell them that they aren't going to have physical relationships with our men," Louise suggested. "That should help. As for the semen we'll be using, it's just general human, with no special properties or abilities from the donors. For that matter, most of the donors are deceased and the sperm would normally be destroyed, but we've managed to procure quite a bit, over the past year. As supplies are available, there should be more than enough for everyone."

"Add to that our young males who have become more fertile via the lowering of their environmental temperature. I do not foresee a problem, for the time being." She looked at Alec. "I will help you decide who may stay and who will return. As much as is possible, I would like to accommodate those closest to the end of their fertile time, that they may conceive and deliver."

"I'll agree to that, but if any of them think they're here as conquerors, then they need to be made to understand that they are here only by our good graces and that any untoward actions on their part will result in them all being sent home with nothing."

Sun in the clouds breath caught for a moment, and then she nodded. "Yes. That is fair. Thank you."

"Well, let's get this over with, then, shall we?" Alec slumped down in his chair, wanting to be as comfortable physically as possible, and he closed his eyes, waiting for Sun in the clouds to contact the fleet. He smiled when the door opened and his lass entered and pulled up a chair beside him and took one of his hands in hers. He squeezed her hand and focused on Sun in the clouds. His other hand was lightly grasped by Sun in the clouds, and her hand was in turn taken by Louise Straker, and her hand by her husband, who took Rachel's hand, as well.

"Almost like a seance, isn't it?" Alec mused softly, just as contact was made.

The myriad excited voices all clamored for attention. When they learned what had been decided, there were wails of dismay from some, and anxious pleading from others. They'd already wasted one year waiting for the chance to breed, and now they were being told that most of them would have to go home barren, still? For a number of them, it would be too late for them to conceive once they returned to their world.

A few, Alec immediately tagged for denial. They were demanding and overwhelming the others. He flat-out told them that they would not be welcome, and why. There was instant silence from them. It took several hours, but they finally selected one third of the group to be permitted to come to Earth and remain for a year. Half of the doctors were chosen to stay, and half would have some cursory training and be sent back with the rest, with enough donor sperm to suffice. When those who would remain for the next year, they would be returning with children, and yet more donor sperm for their sisters at home. It was hoped that this would suffice for the time being, perhaps with lines of communication opened between their worlds and normal diplomatic relations developed.

*"One thing, though. If we ever hear of any of the cross-bred children being destroyed for spare parts for your elders, we will come after you and kill every adult on your world."* With that final threat from Ed, the palaver ended and ten alien ships were headed for Moon Base.

The twenty-five females permitted to remain on Earth were kept in isolation through impregnation, pregnancy and delivery. They had minimal contact with the humans, which didn't seem to bother them in the least. The question now on the minds of SHADO, the Astrophysical Commission and their UN sponsors was, what next? With the threat of the aliens removed, they hardly had need of a military force to defend themselves.

"But what if there are others, out there? Perhaps it's time for us to begin our own exploration? We've got the manpower trained. We have the means, what with the trade agreement we've made with the current group. We can simply retool and re-gear towards exploration, rather than defense."

The members of the AC began excitedly chattering among themselves, considering the Commander's suggestion. It wasn't a bad idea. The idea of exploring at least our own planetary system was an excellent idea. The possibilities for mining precious metals, for one, would be worthwhile. Spreading to other parts of the solar system would also give man's desire for exploration an outlet.

Straker left them still discussing the possibilities. He smiled. It would take them years to decide what to do, and in the meantime, SHADO would continue as it was. But with a slightly different mission, namely that of the diplomatic interface between the two planets.

Maybe it was time to retire.

Alec snuggled into the arms of his wife. They'd taken some time off and gone out to the hangar and taken up some of the planes for a loop or twelve. Now, exhausted from their play, they were ready to sleep. But there was something bothering his lass.

"Are you ever going to tell me what's wrong?" he murmured softly as he nuzzled into the hair just above her ear.


"Something's been bothering you for more than a week, now. I was just wondering if you were ever going to tell me."

"Oh." She shifted in his embrace, curling her body against his. He held her close and lightly kissed her.


She lifted her face to his. She would never tire of gazing into his eyes and seeing her love for him reflected back at her. They'd been married more than seven years, and in that time there had been many changes, most notably since their minds had become linked through the meeting with Wind chimes, or as she was now know, Wendy Chimes Carlin. His hair was darker and fuller than when they had met, and her own gray was mostly gone. "I love you, laddie."

"Oh, lass. You know how much I love you? Always and forever, and beyond, lass. Never doubt that."

"Always and forever, and beyond." Her arms tightened about him. He tilted her face up to his and kissed her soundly.

"My lass."

"Yours, laddie." She kissed him back, hard.

"So, what's been bothering you, lass?"

She took a deep breath and sighed, content in his arms. "I'm pregnant."

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